LEWISTON – A 12-year-old boy who said during questioning at Lewiston police headquarters that he started the first of three major fires this spring in the city’s downtown did not know that he was free to leave the police station, a clinical psychologist testified Monday.

That point could prove pivotal in the juvenile case against Brody Covey, whose attorney is arguing that Covey’s confession should be thrown out.

Covey’s attorney, Allan Lobozzo, says in a motion filed in Lewiston District Court that his client’s statement that he started the fire on April 29 should not be admissible in court. Lobozzo argues that the detective who interviewed him did not read Covey his Miranda rights — that he didn’t have to talk and was entitled to a lawyer — until more than an hour and 45 minutes into the interview, after Covey confessed.

Andrew Wisch, a clinical psychologist, testified on the third day of the hearing on Lobozzo’s motion, describing his examination of Covey, now 13, at the Long Creek Youth Development Center.

Covey has been held at Long Creek since his arrest immediately after his recorded interview with Detective Robert Morin.

“One of the things I asked Brody about the video (of the police interview) was whether he felt he could leave the room,” Wisch said.

He said Covey answered that question by saying, “I had a feeling I kinda couldn’t.”

Covey is charged with three counts of arson. Authorities say he started a fire on the porch behind the condemned building where he lived with his family, at 109 Blake St., and faced imminent eviction.

The fire spread and destroyed two adjacent buildings, at 172 Bates St. and 82 Pine St.

That fire was followed by unrelated arson fires on May 3 and May 6 in downtown Lewiston. In total, the fires destroyed nine buildings and displaced nearly 200 people.

When police brought Covey to the station to be interviewed, he initially was a witness. The video of the interview, played on the first day of the hearing, last month, showed the detective making an abrupt shift in his questioning, pausing before asking Covey, “Did you set it?”

Wisch testified that Covey is exceptionally bright for his age, with reading skills in the 99th percentile, but most children his age would not know that they could leave a police interrogation if they wanted.

Most children, he said, “unless they were told they could leave, would be unaware they could leave.”

Judge Rick Lawrence made no immediate ruling on the motion and asked lawyers to submit arguments in writing. Lobozzo has until Aug. 19 to submit his arguments. The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Melanie Portas, has a Sept. 3 deadline.

Outside the courthouse after the hearing, Lobozzo said that once police considered Covey a suspect, they should have stopped the interview and explained his rights to him to get an admissible confession.

“Without a confession, it’s a much more difficult case for the state,” Lobozzo said. “This case hinges on the confession.”

If convicted, Covey could be committed to a youth detention facility until he is 21. He has denied the charges.

Abdi Ibrahim is charged with starting the fire on May 3. He also was 12 at the time of the fire, and is now 13. He has denied four counts of arson in the blaze, which destroyed four apartment buildings.

Brian Morin, 30, and Bryan Wood, 23, were accused of starting the fire on May 6 that destroyed two vacant buildings on Bartlett Street.

Morin has pleaded not guilty to two counts of arson.

A judge ruled Friday that Wood is incompetent to stand trial and likely will not be competent in the foreseeable future. Prosecutors will not appeal that decision, so the charges against Wood will be dismissed once the Department of Health and Human Services reviews his case.

The state hasn’t had a facility for people with intellectual disabilities since the Pineland Hospital and Training Center closed in 1996, so Wood will likely be released from the Androscoggin County Jail, where he is being held.

 

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

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