Autry estate files suit

Melissa “Katie” Autry’s saga continues to move ahead, four months after her brutal death last semester from a Poland Hall fire.

Autry’s estate filed a wrongful death complaint against Western and others on Thursday in Warren Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, an attorney representing one of the men charged with killing Autry asked yesterday to have the indictment against his client dismissed.

In addition to the university, the lawsuit filed by the estate also named as defendants the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, the Student Life Foundation and Poland staff members from last semester.

“We believe proper security could have prevented the attack on Katie Autry,” said Ben Crocker, the attorney representing her estate.

In a statement released on Thursday, the university said the two men charged in the attack are solely responsible for Autry’s death.

“While the university regrets the terrible crime that was perpetrated against Ms. Autry, it is confident that the facts will show neither its staff nor its policies played a role in this tragic event,” the university statement said.

Representatives from the Pike chapter and its national organization could not be reached for comment.

Crocker said Western, the Student Life Foundation and the dorm staff members failed to enforce their policies, procedures, rules and regulations on the night of May 4. That night, Autry was raped, sodomized and set afire in her second-floor dorm room in Poland.

She died three days later at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

“If Western isn’t willing to accept responsibility and to do what is necessary, then you have to do it yourself,” said Virginia White, Autry’s aunt and co-administrator of her estate.

The suit lists as defendants the hall director, assistant hall director and three resident assistants who may have been working the night of May 4. The two men charged with Autry’s death may not have properly checked into the dorm, Crocker said.

Students must check guests in at the front desk of dorms. The guest is required to sign in and hand over identification to be returned when they leave.

The university, in its release, disputed that. It points to media reports that the two men gained entry into Poland with Autry’s consent.

Autry’s roommate last semester said she believes Poland staff didn’t stop the men from entering the building unescorted.

“I don’t understand why they keep on saying it’s not any of the staff’s fault,” Radcliff sophomore Danica Jackson said.

She said people often entered Poland last semester without first being checked in at the front desk.

“Half the time they wouldn’t even look up when someone walked in the door,” Jackson said of last year’s desk clerks in Poland.

Jackson said she supports the Autry estate’s lawsuit against Western.

The staff members named in the lawsuit could not be reached for comment or did not return telephone messages.

General Counsel Deborah Wilkins said the Poland staff members named in the suit will be represented through the university.

John David Cole, chairman of the Student Life Foundation, said he believes the staff did nothing wrong before the attack.

“It seems to me the estate has simply sued the wrong people,” he said. “As I have read the complaint, it has not named the two young men involved.”

Lucas B. Goodrum, 21, and Stephen L. Soules, 20, have been indicted in Autry’s attack and murder.

Neither were listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

Crocker said they weren’t named because they face punishment in the criminal justice system.

During a pretrial conference yesterday, Goodrum’s attorney, David Broderick, filed a motion to have the indictment against his client dismissed.

Soules’ attorney, Zachary Kafoglis, filed a motion asking for a public defender to be appointed co-counsel.

A hearing was scheduled for Monday to consider the motions.

Autry attended a party at the Pike house the evening she was attacked. Jackson said Autry didn’t drink alcoholic beverages while at the party.

“She drank before she got there,” Jackson said.

The suit said the Pikes didn’t properly supervise an event on their property, allowed and provided alcoholic beverages to their guests and failed to provide adequate security.

Crocker said the Pikes also violated their policies by allowing uninvited guests into a party at their house on Chestnut Street.

Wilkins said the university will be represented by Bowling Green attorney Greg Strivers. More representation may be added as the legal process moves on.

The suit seeks, among other requests, compensation for medical expenses, destruction of earning capacity, and pain and suffering from the defendants.

Crocker said there won’t be a reward amount requested until later in the lawsuit process.

Herald reporter Adriane Hardin contributed to this story. Reach the reporters at [email protected]