Campus feels Autry murder effects after a decade

Cameron Koch

Almost 10 years ago today, WKU and its administration found itself in the middle of a nightmare — the murder of WKU freshman Melissa “Katie” Autry.

The incident would have important and far reaching implications for the future of campus security.

On May 4, 2003, Autry was raped, stabbed and lit on fire in her Hugh Poland dorm room.

She died three days later from her injuries at Vanderbilt Medical Center.

Police arrested two suspects, Stephen Soules and Lucas Goodrum, both non-WKU students. According to the WKU Police Department, lead police agency over the case, the two men were at a fraternity party with Autry the night of the crime and afterward, returned with her to Hugh Poland Hall. 

Soules pleaded guilty in 2004 to murder and six other felony charges against him.  He is now serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.

Goodrum pleaded not guilty and was acquitted by a jury of all eight felony charges in 2005.

Though WKU was found to not be at fault for Autry’s death, her family and Goodrum’s attorney, Bowling Green attorney David Broderick, criticized WKUPD for their handling of the investigation.

WKU’s administration all agreed changes needed to be made, including many of the dorm security measures still in place today. 

Magnetic locking doors were placed within all dorms on campus, requiring students to use keys to gain building access.

Deborah Wilkins, WKU’s general counsel and chief of staff, said one major change was the implementation of the ID check in system now used in all dorms.

WKUPD Police Chief Robert Deane said the campus police department has done everything in its power to ensure a similar incident never occurs again.

“We learned from our past mistakes, we’ve improved and hopefully we will continue to improve to prevent something like that from occurring again,” Deane said.

He provided a specific example.

“In 2003, we didn’t have an SRT team, a Special Response Team,” Deane said. “The SRT team is one of the results of that (Autry murder), we formulated an SRT team for on campus. These guys are trained to, in the event we have an incident on campus … they are prepared to go right into a situation, where we didn’t have that before.”

Deane also said the number of police vehicles on campus helps them to  prevent crime and respond quickly to incidents. WKUPD did not have their own police vehicles in 2003 and had to rely on other police agencies to use their vehicles, Deane said.

Wilkins said in her opinion the most significant improvement to campus security since Autry’s death has been getting more closed circuit security cameras across campus. The video feeds from the cameras go directly to the police department where they are monitored.

“I think just the idea of having a camera up there … might dissuade people from criminal activity who are coming here to do something,” Wilkins said.

No specific WKU policy exists to deal with a similar situation if, or when, it is to happen again. 

“Whenever there’s a crime like that, the law enforcement agencies decide,” she said.  “They might all help each other, but somebody has to be the lead agency.” 

Wilkins said in the event of a similar situation WKU would look carefully as to whether or not WKUPD would lead the investigation.

Even now, 10 years later, the effects of Autry’s death can still be seen.

“It’s kind of like bringing a bad dream up, every year on the anniversary,” Deane said. “We try not to look at it that way. We just try to learn…we try very, very hard to provide the best security we can for our campus community.”