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Teen pleads not guilty to arson, murder counts in apartment fire that killed 2 in Fairbanks

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska — A teenager who is charged with starting a fire that killed two residents of an apartment building and leaving 50 others without a place to live has pleaded not guilty to arson and murder charges.

Conar Lee Groppel, 18, entered his plea Tuesday in Fairbanks Superior Court.

He was indicted by a grand jury on 12 counts, including first-degree murder, arson, burglary and evidence tampering, for intentionally starting a fire or explosion in late January at an apartment complex on Geraghty Street. Authorities have not elaborated on a possible motive. The boy's mother says he was visiting a friend when the fire broke out Jan. 29.

Jane Connolly, 50, and Kristina Pence, 39, died in the fire. Groppel was also injured, and spent time recuperating at a Seattle burn hospital. He appeared in court Tuesday wearing anti-scarring compression gloves, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://is.gd/NzMZSb ).

Judge Bethany Harbison determined Groppel met the financial requirements for a court-appointed attorney when he said he had held a job at a fast-food restaurant for three weeks before the fire and had an "under the table" job that paid him $100 a day.

An attorney in court for another case helped him enter his not guilty plea. Online court records Wednesday morning didn't list an attorney for Groppel.

A jury trial was scheduled to start Sept. 22.


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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