Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Prosecutors dismissed their case Tuesday against a 13-year-old boy accused of setting the first of three major fires in downtown Lewiston last spring that put the entire city on edge.
A demolition crew member cleans up the rubble from the Blake Street fire in Lewiston in May.
2013 Press Herald File Photo/Carl D. Walsh
Together, the three fires over eight days displaced nearly 200 people and destroyed nine apartment buildings, leaving behind swaths of empty lots in Lewiston’s otherwise densely populated downtown.
The Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office decided to drop three arson counts against Brody Covey about four months after a judge threw out a confession the boy made to Lewiston police, ruling that the police failed to read him his rights until an hour and 45 minutes into their interrogation.
Covey’s confession, made first to a Lewiston police detective and then to his mother on a video recorded at the police station, was the key evidence against him in the blaze that destroyed three apartment buildings on April 29. Covey was 12 at the time.
District Attorney Norman Croteau said members of his office came to the “painstaking” decision that without the confession, they couldn’t make the case against Covey.
“Without those statements, we simply can’t prove the arson or who did it,” Croteau said. “It’s a difficult decision to make, but we have to make sure we have the evidence before we can move forward.”
District Court Judge Rick Lawrence’s ruling Oct. 15 was the second major blow to law enforcement’s attempts to hold four arson suspects, all from Lewiston, responsible for the three massive fires that shook the downtown. Bryan Wood, 24, one of two men charged with setting a fire on May 6 that destroyed two buildings, was deemed incompetent to stand trial because of an intellectual disability. Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy ruled in August that Wood likely would not be competent in the foreseeable future.
The other man charged, Brian Morin, 30, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of arson. His case remains pending.
With the dismissal of Covey’s case, no one has been held accountable for the fires that struck the city’s poorest residents. Most of those displaced were living in poverty, many of them refugees from war-torn African nations. It took government agencies, volunteers and social workers more than two months to find homes for all of them.
All that’s left where the buildings burned are vacant lots that Lewiston officials have said will likely stay empty for years.
The case against another boy, Abdi Ibrahim, charged with starting the fire on May 3, remains pending. Ibrahim was 12 at the time and is now 13. He has denied four counts of arson in the blaze, which destroyed four apartment buildings.
No one was seriously injured in any of the fires.
As for Covey, in a recording of his confession played in court last year, he admitted starting a fire April 29 on the porch behind the condemned building at 109 Blake St., where he lived with his family, who faced imminent eviction. The fire spread and destroyed two adjacent buildings, at 172 Bates St. and 82 Pine St.
Covey was initially considered a witness, not a suspect, when he was brought to the police station to be interviewed on May 2. The video of the interview, played in court in July, shows Lewiston police Detective Robert Morin making an abrupt shift in his questioning more than eight minutes into the video, pausing before asking Covey pointedly, “Did you set it?”
Covey answered no at first, but eventually confessed that he lit the fire on the back porch. Morin then brought Covey’s mother and stepfather into the interview room and read Covey his constitutionally required Miranda rights – that he didn’t have to talk and was entitled to a lawyer. Covey’s mother and stepfather said they wanted an attorney present.
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