Court documents filed late Wednesday charge Patrick Martin Scahill and Virginia Amanda Griese in the Feb. 6 fire that killed 34-year-old Vasanta Pallem, a postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering.
KANSAS CITY, KS (KCTV) -
Federal charges have been filed against two people in connection with an arson at an apartment complex in Manhattan, KS, that killed a woman.
Patrick Martin Scahill, 20, and Virginia Amanda Griese, 19, both of Manhattan, have been indicted on one count of arson resulting in a death.
The indictment alleges that on Feb. 6, Scahill and Griese were responsible for a fire at the Lee Crest Apartments, located in the 800 block of Sunset Avenue. Scahill is a former Kansas State University student.
Vasanta Pallem, a 34-year-old postdoctoral researcher at Kansas State University who lived in the apartment complex, died as a result of the fire. Her area of expertise was the science of materials that are extremely thin.
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said the defendants' reckless act cost the life of a person who had a bright mind, a bright future and a desire to teach students. He said the suspects took gasoline, ran down the hallway and lit it, which he said was a blatant disregard for life.
"The evidence we have clearly indicate this was no accident, this was two individuals taking gasoline, walking down the hallway, pouring it, then lighting it. This can't be construed as an accident, no way," Grissom said.
Grissom said the Riley County Attorney's office requested the case be set for federal prosecution.
Grissom said he could not comment about the defendants' motive for setting the fire, but said Pallem was not the target.
"I anticipate more details of the investigation will be made public as the case proceeds," he said.
The penalty, if convicted federally, for arson resulting in death could range from 20 years to life in prison. If there had been state charges, the maximum would have been 20 years with the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors say they want to send a strong message to others about reckless acts and disregard for human life. As a result, the county prosecutors deferred to the filing of charges in federal court.
Pallem's death devastated her friends and family who had a hard time grasping her suddenly not being there with them.
"She definitely had a bright future," said Dr. Vikas Berry, a professor of chemical engineering.
She was known for amazing research skills. Berry said he learned from her.
"She will remain in our thoughts," he said. "She was a very kind lady."
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