July 27, 2013

Admissibility of confession questioned in Lewiston arson case

At issue are statements a teen suspect made to police before Miranda rights were read to him.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

LEWISTON – Police Detective Robert Morin testified that he brought Brody Covey, then 12 years old, into the police station to interview him as a witness to the April 29 fire that destroyed three downtown buildings, including the apartment where Covey lived with his family.

click image to enlarge

A demolition crew cleans up the rubble from a Blake Street fire in Lewiston on Thursday. Lewiston police charged a 12-year-old boy with setting the fire, who has since turned 13.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

By the end of the interview, Covey was under arrest.

Covey's attorney, Allan Lobozzo, pressed Morin during a cross-examination in Lewiston District Court on Friday, the second day of Covey's juvenile hearing, asking when during Morin's questioning did Covey become a suspect and at what point did the boy deserve to know he had a right to remain silent and to have an attorney with him.

Covey, now 13, has been charged with three counts of arson for igniting the first of three unrelated fires, set within about a week in the spring, that destroyed several apartment buildings in downtown Lewiston and displaced nearly 200 people.

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

Lobozzo is arguing that statements Covey made in the interview, including a confession, are inadmissible because Morin questioned him for too long before reading him his Miranda rights.

In a video of Morin's interview with Covey, played in court Monday and partially repeated on Friday, the detective began by asking the boy to walk him through the day of the fire, from the time he got home from school until he ran out of the burning building at 109 Blake St.

Covey said he talked to his mother that day about needing to find a new place to live. Some visitors stopped by the house. Fifteen minutes after they left, while he was watching a movie with a family friend, he said he heard a crackling in the kitchen and went to look. He came back and told the friend there was a fire.

In recounting the events, Covey first said the friend was asleep, then said he did not know what the friend was doing, and later said the friend was listening to music.

Morin said that's when he started to suspect that Covey started the fire.

Morin asked the boy if he set it. Covey said no. Morin told him he understood why he might: The condemned building was no place to live.

Covey eventually confessed that he lit the fire on the back porch of his home.

Morin then brought Covey's mother and stepfather into the interview and read Covey his Miranda rights. They said they wanted an attorney present.

Covey's hearing will resume Aug. 5, when a forensic psychologist is scheduled to testify.

Another 13-year-old, Abdi Ibrahim, is accused of starting a fire on May 3 that destroyed four apartment buildings downtown. Ibrahim, who faces four counts of arson and the same punishment as Covey, also denied the charges against him. On Wednesday, he was ordered by Judge Rick Lawrence to be transferred from a detention center to a residential treatment facility while he awaits trial.

Lawrence is also presiding over Covey's case.

Brian Morin, 30, and Bryan Wood, 23, are accused of setting a third fire on May 6 that destroyed two unoccupied buildings on Bartlett Street. Each is charged with two counts of arson, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Morin has pleaded guilty; Wood has not yet been arraigned.

 

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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