Prosecutor Suggests a Grudge Sparked Seton Hall Blaze

August 8, 2003 -- A prosecutor has suggested that two former Seton Hall students set the 2000 dormitory fire that killed three people in order to settle a grudge against a supervisor on their floor, according to a report published yesterday.

Essex County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Norman Menz, speaking during his summation of the evidence on June 5, told the grand jurors that Sean Ryan and Joseph T. LePore had a history of playing pranks against Seton Hall student Dan Nugent, a resident assistant on Boland Hall's third floor, the report said.

In the early-morning hours of Jan. 19, 2000, Menz said, Nugent repeatedly complained to Ryan and LePore, then freshmen, for making too much noise. The final confrontation took place at about 4 a.m., when Nugent called the pair's room, the prosecutor said. Within 30 minutes, the fire was raging in the third-floor lounge.

In addition to the three students killed in the blaze, 58 others were injured.

According to the report, which appeared in The Newark Star-Ledger, Menz, in his closed-door summation, acknowledged the absence of eyewitnesses and direct physical evidence in the case, but said the altercations "could lead one to the conclusion that Joseph T. LePore and Sean Ryan had motives to get back at Dan Nugent, who was trying to sleep, by setting Nugent's bulletin board decorations on fire and pounding on his door."

Shortly afterward, the grand jury indicted Ryan and LePore on charges of arson, reckless manslaughter, aggravated assault and felony murder. Both men, now 22, have pleaded not guilty to the charges and are free on bail.