The U.S. Attorney General’s office will review whether federal prosecutors in Kansas should pursue the death penalty against two people accused of setting a deadly fire here in February.
Patrick Scahill, 20, and Virginia Griese, 19, both of Manhattan, pleaded not guilty to arson resulting in death in federal court Wednesday. They are accused of setting a fire on Feb. 6 at Lee Crest Apartments, 820 Sunset Ave., which resulted in the death of K-State researcher Vasanta Pallem, 34, a tenant of the complex. Pallem died of smoke inhalation at Mercy Regional Health Center.
Allegedly the pair poured gasoline downthe first-level hallway of the complex and lit it on fire.
James Cross, public information officer for U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, said a panel of experts at the Department of Justice will review the case as the next step in federally prosecuting the pair.
Arson resulting in death can carry a maximum penalty of death under federal statute, but he said, if the panel determines not to seek the death penalty, federal prosecutors will seek life in federal prison without parole.
Scahill and Griese appeared in front of Magistrate Judge Gary Sebelius in Topeka at their arraignments Wednesday, where a third man, Gavin Hairgrove, 19, was also arraigned in relation to the arson.
Hairgrove is charged with accessory after the fact and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $125,000.
According to court documents, on the day of the arson, Hairgrove “received, relieved, comforted and assisted one or more offenders in order to hinder and prevent their apprehension, trial and punishment,” while allegedly knowing that arson had been committed.
Officials did not comment on the details of that charge and Hairgrove pleaded not guilty.
Arraignments were also held in front of Judge Sebelius Wednesday for two people accused of the Feb. 6 armed robbery of Dara’s Fast Lane, 1816 Claflin Road. Officials said the cases were related but would not elaborate.
Frank Hanson, 22, Manhattan, and Dennis Denzien, 20, Manhattan, are charged with one count of interference with commerce by means of robbery and one count of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.
It is alleged that the men entered Dara’s Fast Lane on Claflin Road in the early morning hours of Feb. 6, brandishing a .22-caliber, six-shot revolver with an obliterated serial number.
They allegedly stole approximately $200 in cash.
If convicted, the two could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for their first count, and a sentence of between seven years to life and a fine of up to $250,000 for their second count. According to court documents, sentencing for their second count would run consecutively with a sentence for the robbery.
Both pleaded not guilty.
Officials said it is customary that all defendants plead not guilty during federal arraignments.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Maag is prosecuting the cases.