LEWISTON — The two men charged with setting fire to two vacant apartment buildings last week told police they did it because they were “sick and tired” of seeing dozens of vacant and condemned buildings in downtown Lewiston, according to a court document.
Brian Morin, 29, who is homeless, and Bryan Wood, 23, of Lewiston, were arraigned Monday in Lewiston District Court. Bail for each man was set at $350,000 cash.
Separate hearings were held in juvenile court for two 12-year-old boys charged with arson in two earlier fires in downtown Lewiston.
Brody Covey, who lived at 109 Blake St. until the building burned on April 29 in a fire that spread to two buildings on Bates and Pine streets, faces three counts of arson.
Abdi Ibrahim, whose last known address is 287 Bates St., is charged with four counts of arson. Authorities say he started a fire on May 3 in a garage behind 149 Bartlett St. that spread to four adjacent apartment buildings.
Both boys denied the charges against them.
In the days before Morin and Wood allegedly set the most recent fires, on May 6, Morin was staying at Wood’s apartment.
“While standing on the street corner, Wood and Morin talked about and then agreed to set the apartment buildings on fire,” Daniel Young, a senior investigator with the state Fire Marshal’s Office, wrote in an affidavit. “Brian Morin told us that he and Bryan Wood talked about burning the buildings because they were sick and tired of all the abandoned buildings in the city that were not being repaired by the landlords.”
In a police interview detailed in the affidavit, Morin told investigators that he served as “lookout” while Wood used butane to start a fire at the rear of 118 Bartlett St. Both men used the butane to douse a cushion from a discarded couch to start the fire that destroyed 114 Bartlett St.
Wood was originally interviewed as a witness to the fire, even approaching a police officer to volunteer information, and blamed the blaze on Morin.
The affidavit also said Wood rode his bicycle to a corner store to buy batteries for his police scanner while the fire raged.
Judge John Beliveau, who set bail for the men $100,000 higher than the amounts requested by Assistant District Attorney Neil McLean, cited the seriousness of the charges, the property damage done by the fires and the apparent disregard for human life the two men showed. He also pointed to the community’s fear that more vacant buildings would be set ablaze.
“There is great fear in the community,” Beliveau said. “Maybe rightfully so.”
The three fires in a span of eight days destroyed nine buildings in downtown Lewiston and displaced more than 180 residents.
Morin and Wood have extensive criminal records.
Morin pleaded guilty in 2002 to unlawful sexual conduct stemming from a rape allegation.
Wood has been found in violation of his conditions of release four times. He was charged in an arson in Portland in 2008 in which a truck was set on fire. The charges were dropped when Wood was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.
His court-appointed attorney in the current arson case, Steven Carey, said Wood’s mental competency is under court review in another case. Carey asked that the outcome of that ruling be taken into account.
“I’m afraid he doesn’t fully understand some of those conditions” of release, Carey said.
He said Wood’s family was in court Monday and his grandmother was ready to put up property to secure his release.
In an affidavit filed hours before the men’s court appearance, investigator Young detailed contradictory information that each man provided to police during the investigation.
Morin, in as many as four interviews with police, eventually said he set the blaze with Wood before 3 a.m. on May 6.
Morin’s attorney, Richard Charest, argued that Morin does not pose a danger to the community because he was previously questioned and released by police. He was arrested Friday.
Morin told the Portland Press Herald after he was questioned and released last week that he did not set the fires.
Earlier Monday, a woman who said she is Morin’s sister said her brother is developmentally delayed and suffers from Tourette syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The sister, who is 28 but did not want to be identified for fear of harassment, said that Morin grew up apart from his siblings, in homes for children with developmental problems, and that she has been a mother figure to him for the past 10 years.
She said that after Morin served prison time for the unlawful sexual conduct in 2002, he lived on the streets, sleeping in basements, in abandoned buildings or with friends.
“He’s been homeless a long time,” she said in a tearful interview. “He’s never gotten help. I couldn’t help him.”
The two juveniles charged in the earlier fires appeared in court Monday accompanied by their parents or guardians and their attorneys. They said little during the proceedings.
Brody Covey was ordered to have an evaluation, although the nature of the evaluation was not clear and his attorney would not elaborate. Covey and Abdi Ibrahim are being held in the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland.
Although both boys are juveniles, Monday’s proceedings were held in open court by state law because of the seriousness of the charges, which would be Class A felonies for adults.
Androscoggin County Assistant District Attorney Melanie Portas would not say whether she would seek to have either boy tried as an adult, which would require a hearing before a judge. She said it appeared unlikely.
Police say they don’t believe the cases are related, but both boys’ families were about to be evicted from their homes when the fires broke out.
Ibrahim, who speaks English, whispered with his attorney, Jeffrey Dolley, during Monday’s court appearance. His parents, Marian Ibrahim and Yussef Abdi, used a Somali translator to comprehend the proceedings.
Court records show that Marian Ibrahim was served a complaint in April seeking to have her removed from her apartment on Bates Street for starting a fire in Unit 8 of the building on March 18.
The building’s owner said the “fire was started intentionally,” activating the sprinklers, according to the court records.
Abdi Ibrahim is not a suspect in that fire and no one has been charged with starting it, said Lewiston police Lt. Michael McGonagle.
John Conway, the attorney representing the company that owns 287 Bates St., said Marian Ibrahim had agreed to terminate her lease.
“They had already moved out because there had been damage to the whole building,” Conway said.
Covey’s mother got a complaint to remove her from the apartment at 109 Blake St. just days before the fire on April 29.
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