A Manhattan man has pleaded guilty in federal court to taking part in a February armed robbery that is connected to the deadly arson that killed a K-State researcher, according to information released Thursday by U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom.
Dennis James Denzien, 20, of Manhattan, pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting a robbery, according to the press release. In his plea, Denzien admitted that on Feb. 6, he drove co-defendant Frank Joseph Hanson to Dara’s Fast Lane at 1816 Claflin Road in Manhattan.
Wearing a mask and brandishing a revolver, Denzien said Hanson entered the store. According to the press release, after Hanson robbed the store, Denzien drove him away from the scene.
Later that day, Riley County Police Department officers served two search warrants at the residence where Denzien lived with another defendant, Patrick Martin Scahill. While officers were working to obtain one of the warrants they served at Denzien’s residence, Hanson, Scahill, defendant Virginia Amanda Griese, defendant Gavin Hairgrove and another person allegedly met and discussed what would happen if the police searched the residence and how to distract police long enough for Scahill to re-enter the residence and remove incriminating evidence. (Ultimately, investigators recovered a mask, gloves, a backpack and a firearm used in the robbery.)
Griese drove Scahill to the Lee Crest Apartments at 820 Sunset Ave.
Scahill poured gasoline in a hallway of the building and set a fire, hoping to distract police and keep them from searching his residence, which was across the street from the apartments. Vasanta Pallem, a post-graduate researcher at Kansas State University who lived on the third floor of the apartments, was overcome by smoke and unable to escape the burning building.
Denzien’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 5. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the robbery count; and not less than seven years consecutive to the underlying penalty on the firearm charge.
Hanson has already pleaded guilty to the robbery and will be sentenced July 8. Scahill and Griese pleaded guilty to arson resulting in a death.
Scahill is awaiting sentencing. Griese’s sentencing is set for July 8. A change-of-plea hearing for Hairgrove is set for June 10.