Pursuit of independence ends with fatal attack

Friday, May 16, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Katie Autry was learning to live on her own as a college freshman. She had started proceedings to leave a foster care program, was about to buy her first car and was holding down two jobs, one as a dancer at a strip club.

But her life on her own would end violently. Autry, 18, was found beaten, stabbed and burned in her smoldering dorm room at Western Kentucky University after an evening of drinking at a fraternity party. She died three days later.

Two men from Scottsville, not far from the Bowling Green campus, were arrested and charged with murder in her May 7 death.

According to court papers, Stephen Soules, 20, told police he watched Lucas Goodrum, 21, rape, beat and try to smother Autry with a pillow before spraying hairspray on her and setting her on fire. She was found with severe burns over much of her body, and puncture wounds and scrapes on her face and neck.

"Nobody deserved what this girl got," said her aunt, Virginia White. "Someone had a lot of anger to have done this girl the way they done her."

Police are saying little about the days leading up to the early morning attack on May 4. No motive has been given.

Autry worked at a campus coffee store and had danced at least four times at Tattletails, a strip club not far from campus.

"Sometimes young people make choices that have very unfortunate consequences," university president Gary Ransdell said before the first arrest Sunday. "But those are the kinds of things we're trying to learn about Katie, and Katie's life and who else was involved in her life."

Police used Soules' statement to support a murder charge against Goodrum, then charged Soules. It was not clear how police came to suspect Soules. The two face a preliminary hearing Monday.

Police will not say whether Autry knew her alleged attackers, though it appears their paths may have crossed at the frat party the last weekend before finals. A police affidavit placed Goodrum and Soules at the Pi Kappa Alpha house that night, though neither of the unemployed men is a student at the university. All three had been drinking, police said.

Whether her attackers forced their way into her room or were invited has not been disclosed.

"I never heard her mention either guy," said White, who was close to her niece.

Autry, who grew up in Pellville, about 75 miles north of Bowling Green, was placed along with her younger sister in a foster family because their mother was unable to care for them and their father was no longer around. But their mother maintained contact with the girls, as did White.

In April, Autry started proceedings to leave the foster care program that she had planned to stay in until she was 21. She had dropped from a full- to part-time student, took on two jobs and planned to rent an off-campus apartment for the summer. White said she understood her niece's decision to dance at the strip club -- the last time on April 26, according to a club manager. "She was trying to pay her bills and pay her rent and stuff," her aunt said.

"She only worked there a couple of weeks," White said, adding that her niece did not dance nude. "There was always a possibility she could have met the boys there, but I seriously doubt it."

Goodrum and Soules, who are being held on $1 million bail, have refused requests relayed through their jailers for interviews, and their families have not returned repeated calls.

The two were friends at Allen County Scottsville High School, said William Cooper, a former principal. Goodrum graduated in 2000, and Soules was moved in March 2000 to an alternative school for disciplinary reasons.

The day before the fire, a 17-year-old girl from Scottsville told police Goodrum struck her twice in the face with a cell phone, but she failed to obtain a warrant for his arrest, and he was not charged. He was charged last year with violating an emergency protective order filed by his ex-wife, but it was dropped.

Last year, Soules was charged with public intoxication and underage possession of alcohol. In 2000, he was charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

"I don't know how they met and they can't bring Katie back, but at least these guys aren't on the street," White said.

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