Suspect Told Co-Worker He Set Fire, Police Say

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 5, 2006

It took more than a year, 100 interviews and countless pleas to the College Park community before Prince George's County police got a break in a mysterious arson case that claimed the life of a University of Maryland senior.

A tip came last week from an anonymous woman and led to the arrest of Daniel Carlisle Murray, 20, a University of Maryland junior. He was taken into custody on campus Wednesday and is charged with first-degree murder, arson and other counts in connection with the death of Michael Scrocca.

The fire also critically injured Scrocca's housemate, Stephen Aarons, then 21, who suffered burns and jumped from a second-story window, landing on a parked car.

The suspect may have started the fire in retaliation after exchanging angry words with partygoers at the victim's College Park home, said a law enforcement source who asked for anonymity because the case is under investigation.

The night before the fire, there was a party with kegs of beer at the off-campus house on Princeton Avenue shared by Scrocca, 22, and his roommates. A fast-burning blaze was set at 4:15 a.m. April 30, 2005.

Charging documents say Murray was "angry over an incident that occurred at or near the house." They say that Murray got gas from an unknown location, returned to the house and started a fire.

The suspect set a broom ablaze and tossed it onto a couch, which ignited, the law enforcement source said.

Charging documents say Murray went to work later that morning and told a co-worker he set the fire.

The documents did not say where he was working. An employee at R.J. Bentley's restaurant in College Park confirmed yesterday that Murray had worked there. The employee did not specify when he was employed at the restaurant.

At the time of the conversation where Murray worked, neither Murray nor the co-worker knew somebody had died in the fire, according to the documents.

Murray transferred to the school in January 2004, university spokesman Millree Williams said.

"This tragedy has been looming around campus for the past year," Williams said. "Students are relieved it is moving in the direction of being solved but are shocked it may involve someone in the university community."

Scrocca, a finance major from Branchburg, N.J., was a popular student known around campus as spontaneous, athletic and generous.

Murray, who is from Hurlock, Md., has been jailed since his arrest. He is scheduled for a bail review today. His family could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Steve Kerpelman, a private investigator hired by the Scrocca family, said he has done more than 100 interviews with students who were at the party that night, and Murray's name was never mentioned. He said if there was an altercation involving Murray that night, it's unlikely that Scrocca was involved, because he was at a different party for most of the evening.

"We don't think he had any relationship to Michael Scrocca or anybody else in that house," Kerpelman said.

Kerpelman said he and the Scrocca family are baffled by the idea of somebody committing the crime and not coming forward.

"If you know you killed somebody, how is it for a year you lived with it?" he asked.

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