Manhattan man pleads guilty to role in arson

By The Mercury

A Manhattan man involved in a deadly arson has pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in connection with an arson that killed a Kansas State University researcher, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said.

Gavin Hairgrove, 30, pleaded guilty Monday for his connection to the Feb. 6 fire at Lee Crest Apartments in Manhattan.

Vasanta Pallem, who lived in the apartments, died as a result of inhaling gases from the fire.

In his plea, Hairgrove admitted that on Feb. 6 of this year, he was present when co-defendants Frank Joseph Hanson, Dennis James Denzien and Patrick Martin Scahill talked about what to do to keep the Riley County Police Department from searching an apartment where Scahill and Denzien lived.

According to Grissom, they were afraid that during a search police would find evidence that Denzien and Hanson had robbed Dara’s Fast Lane store in Manhattan on Feb. 5 and that the gun used in the robbery was owned by Scahill. They were also concerned that police would find narcotics in the apartment. The group talked about creating a diversion that would give Scahill time to re-enter the residence and remove the incriminating evidence.

Later that day, Scahill and co-defendant Virginia Griese drove to the Lee Crest Apartments in Manhattan, where Scahill poured gasoline in a hallway of the apartments and started a fire in an effort to create a diversion. Vasanta Pallem was killed in the fire.

After setting the fire, Scahill and Griese made their way back to Griese’s apartment where Scahill cleaned up and removed his clothing because it smelled like gasoline. Hairgrove assisted Scahill in disposing of Scahill’s shoes, which reeked of gasoline. Hairgrove also provided Scahill with another pair of shoes to wear.

Sentencing is set for Feb. 24, 2014. He faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.

Grissom commended all the investigators and law enforcement agencies that worked on the case, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Riley County Attorney’s Office, the Riley County Police Department, the Manhattan Fire Department, the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Kansas Bureau of Investigations and the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Maag, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Wilkerson and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Disney, who are prosecuting.

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