Lawyers in New Jersey say Seton Hall University Dorm Fire Protection was Inadequate

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Lawyers for the two former students charged in the fatal Seton Hall University dorm fire say felony murder charges against their clients should be dismissed because inadequate firefighting equipment in the building had created a hazardous situation.

Lawyers for defendants Sean Ryan and Joseph LePore argued last week in Superior Court that the deaths of three students could have been prevented if fire hoses on the third floor of the freshman dorm had not been disconnected a week before the Jan. 19, 2000, fire.

The attorneys also argued that a fire extinguisher used by a resident assistant did not work, that there was a delay in calling 911 and that three couches in the dorm lounge where the fire began were made of flammable materials.

Ryan and LePore, both now 24, are charged with arson, felony murder and reckless manslaughter. Prosecutors say they lit a paper banner on a couch in a third-floor lounge after a night of drunken horseplay. They have denied setting the fire.

Prosecutors said the charges are warranted.

''The issue is not big fire or little fire,'' Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Rachel Gran said in court last week. ''The issue is, did someone set the fire and recklessly place someone in jeopardy of injury?''

The defense lawyers contend the fire was either accidental or ignited by others, and that felony murder charges are not justified because of the hazardous conditions they say existed.

''Disconnecting the fire hoses from standing pipes because students played with them was like taking the lifeguards off a beach because some people keep pretending to drown,'' lawyer Michael Bubb told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Tuesday's newspaper.

Before the fatal fire, a rash of false alarms prompted school officials to change the procedure for notifying 911, attorneys said.

Seton Hall authorities declined to discuss details of the case with the newspaper, but denied the dormitories had inadequate safeguards.

''At the time of the Seton Hall fire, Seton Hall residence halls were in compliance with all state and local fire ordinances and requirements,'' said Thomas White, a university spokesman.

No trial date has been set in the case, but Judge Harold Fullilove said he anticipates deciding the challenge to the indictment quickly.

Information from: The Star-Ledger