updated 3/21/2005 7:17:30 PM ET 2005-03-22T00:17:30

A man was acquitted of murder, rape and arson Monday in the slaying of a Western Kentucky University freshman who was attacked and set on fire in her dorm room.

Lucas Goodrum, 23, could have gotten the death penalty if found guilty of killing 18-year-old Katie Autry, who died of her burns at a hospital three days after being pulled from her smoldering room in 2003.

The jury took about 2½ hours to reach a verdict. Goodrum wiped away tears and hugged one of his lawyers. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty.

“I’m just happy justice has prevailed today,” Goodrum said at a news conference, surrounded by members of his family.

Former co-defendant testifies
The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Goodrum’s former co-defendant, Stephen Soules. The two were at the same fraternity party as Autry the night of the attack, and prosecutors said they followed her back to her room.

Soules pleaded guilty a year ago to raping and killing Autry, and implicated Goodrum. Soules escaped the death penalty and received life in prison for his testimony.

The defense argued that Soules was a liar and that there was no evidence that Goodrum was in the dorm room that night. Also, Goodrum’s father and stepmother testified he was at their home in Scottsville, about 25 miles from the university in Bowling Green, by the time the fire alarms went off.

‘There wasn't any proof’
“There wasn’t any proof,” defense attorney David Broderick said as he left the courthouse.

Prosecutor Chris Cohron said that sprinklers had gone off in the dorm room and that water and fire damage made it difficult to collect evidence. And he accused Goodrum’s parents of lying to protect him.

Autry’s family quickly left the courthouse in tears. Autry’s aunt, Virginia White, expressed shock that the jury returned so soon. “I still feel like he was guilty,” she said.

“I think it’s an unfortunate outcome,” the prosecutor said. “We can only present the facts we had.”

Goodrum, who has spent the last two years in jail, said he doesn’t have feelings “either way” toward Soules. “I’m happy to be out and be a free man, and be here with my family,” Goodrum said. He said he would move to Texas to work on his family’s ranch.

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