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A 20-year-old freshman accused of murdering two fellow deaf students at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., admitted in a videotaped confession that robbery was the reason he stabbed one classmate to death and fatally beat the other, prosecutors said Wednesday. Joseph M. Mesa Jr. of Guam was ordered held without bond after an appearance in District of Columbia Superior Court. “There is substantial probability that Mr. Mesa committed these murders,” said the hearing commissioner, J. Dennis Doyle, who rejected a defense request that Mesa be released to a halfway house. A preliminary hearing was set for Feb. 23. Mesa is charged with two counts of felony murder while armed in the deaths of two 19-year-old freshmen killed about five months apart at the nation’s only liberal arts university for the deaf. Both Eric F. Plunkett of Burnsville, Minn., and Benjamin Varner of San Antonio were killed in the dormitory, Cogswell Hall, which is next door to Krug Hall, where Mesa lived. Plunkett was found beaten to death Sept. 28 in his first-floor room. Varner was found Feb. 3 stabbed to death in his fourth-floor room. Details about the videotaped confession and the crimes were provided in a statement outside court from the U.S. attorney’s office. According to prosecutors, Mesa said robbery was the motive for both killings. There is evidence that on Feb. 2 — within an hour of Varner’s murder — Mesa cashed a $650 check on Varner’s account. Also, Plunkett’s debit card was used in several transactions after the time they believe Plunkett died. Prosecutors said Mesa said he stabbed Varner in the neck with a knife he found on top of a microwave oven in the victim’s room, and beat Plunkett to death. Mesa spoke to detectives for the first time on Monday, but did not admit to the killings until Tuesday, when he provided the videotaped statement with the aid of interpreters, authorities said. Mesa’s arrest lifts the cloud of suspicion from former Gallaudet student Thomas Minch, 18, of Greenland, N.H., who was arrested five days after Plunkett’s death but later released. He has not been allowed on campus since that time. “Mr. Minch was not involved in the murder of Eric Plunkett,” said the city’s police chief, Charles H. Ramsey. Gallaudet officials said they would try to persuade Minch to return to campus to continue his education. “I think there’s relief, but a great deal of sadness,” university spokeswoman Mercy Coogan said. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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