COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A man suspected of starting a fire that
killed five college students in a house near Ohio State University
was released from jail Monday after prosecutors dropped charges
against him.
Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said the aggravated murder and arson
charges against 20-year-old Robert Lucky Patterson could be refiled
at any time.
"Mr. Patterson is not cleared as a suspect. He can be
re-arrested, indicted, tried, convicted," he said.
Detectives need more time to pursue leads and build a stronger
case, O'Brien said.
"We have requested further investigation," he said. "There
must be sufficient evidence for a unanimous jury decision. You only
get one shot."
O'Brien said last week that he questioned the charges after
reviewing a videotaped police interview with Patterson and
interviewing five witnesses whose statements would be critical to
gaining an indictment.
O'Brien would not discuss specific evidence Monday.
Patterson was arrested Aug. 1 and charged with five counts of
aggravated murder, three counts of attempted aggravated murder and
nine counts of aggravated arson in the April 13 fire that killed
two Ohio State students and three from Ohio University.
Columbus police have said Patterson made incriminating
statements, and that they had witnesses who placed him in the area
on the night of the fire, stealing car stereos.
Police said Patterson got into a confrontation with someone in a
parking lot behind the three-story rooming house, where about 80
people were celebrating the 21st birthday of one victim.
Authorities said Patterson set fire to a couch on the front porch.
Victims' families accept O'Brien's decision, said Dean Knisley,
a spokesman for the family of Christine Wilson, one of the five
killed.
"They were pretty much in agreement there wasn't enough there
at this point in time," Knisley said Monday. "It's better not to
go forward than take your chances."
Monday was the deadline for seeking an indictment. Under Ohio
law, prosecutors have 10 days to indict a suspect who has been
arrested on a felony charge.
Patterson was denied bail last week after a detective said he
threatened to set fire to the homes of at least two potential
witnesses.
When asked whether he was concerned about the threats, O'Brien
said police would address "any perceived problems."
Patterson's father, Ron Patterson, said at the court on Monday
that his son is "a little stupid teenager" but not a criminal.
He said he is sure his son did not start the fire but might know
who did.
Others killed in the fire were Alan Schlessman, 21; Kyle Raulin
20; Andrea K. Dennis, 20; and Erin M. DeMarco, 19. Schlessman and
Raulin attended Ohio State. The women went to Ohio University.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)