It was the third day of a court hearing that would have a dramatic effect on the life of 13-year-old Brody Covey.
Three months earlier, Brody was charged with setting fire to his apartment building at 105-111 Blake Street in downtown Lewiston. It was the first of three unrelated arson fires that would strike the city over an eight-day period, leaving hundreds homeless.
When Brody saw his mother at the hearing, they shared a warm hug and were clearly happy to see each other. The boy also hugged his 32-year-old stepfather, Charles "Scooter" Epps, but with less enthusiasm.
Epps is a career criminal and chronic liar who has not held a job since he was 16 years old. He is connected to an April murder and has become one of the major influences on Brody's young life in recent years.
“The kid’s in trouble and I feel sorry for him, I do. I wish he'd have stayed here,” his paternal grandfather said from Oklahoma, where Brody was born and lived the first years of his life.
The hearing last week was called to determine whether Brody's confession to police was obtained legally. As lawyers made their cases, Brody's mom, Jessica Reilly, who has "Epps" tattooed on her chest and defers to her husband, looked on with concern.
Epps, sitting at the defense table dressed in a black hoodie and camo shorts, sucked his thumb for close to an hour, something he does when he's nervous.
The judge's decision in September could decide Brody's future.
Brody's past is far more clear.
A Sun Journal review of public records, social media and interviews with those close to the case paint a picture of a young man being raised by a developmentally challenged mother trying hard to create a family environment for her children. She is dominated by a man who brags openly about creating a "safe haven" for criminal activity in the family's apartment, including allowing drug use and helping thieves move stolen goods.
He is a man whose own threats to burn down the apartment building were well-known to his stepson, according to multiple sources.
If convicted of arson, Brody faces the possibility of spending the next eight years at Long Creek Youth Development Center.
If not, a court-appointed guardian ad litem is already looking at placement options for him.
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The head of the Reilly-Epps family "is out all the time hitting the street trying to hustle up dollars," he says, and he lies. “That’s what I do.”
In a recent taped interview with police, Epps told them, “I inherited the ability to lie Christ off the cross from my mother.”
Later in that same interview, he explained that although he’s a criminal, he’s “not that criminal anymore,” and claims to now just “sit at home, do my drugs and take care of my kids.”
According to Brody’s grandfather, that was not and is not an acceptable home life for the teen.
Casey Covey said the best thing that could happen to his grandson is for the state to remove him from the Reilly-Epps home and place him in foster care, or with extended family. “Get him out of there and away from Jessy,” he said.
A number of people close to the case agree, suggesting that Brody’s best chance to succeed is to put some distance between him and his immediate family. But Brody loves his family. He protects his mother, watches over his three younger siblings and has a genuine bond with Epps.
These same people also say that if he remains in their care, the strong criminal elements that surround this family are likely to creep into Brody’s personality and permanently change this likable kid.
According to his attorney, Allan Lobozzo, “I have told literally 100 people what a good kid Brody Covey is. He’s quiet. Polite. Diligent. He shakes your hand.”
But, according to his grandfather, “he’s been getting a raw deal” since moving to Maine several years ago. Casey Covey said Reilly and her boys have lived in shelters and moved from place to place as she has taken different boyfriends.
When Brody lived in Oklahoma with his mother and biological father, he had a stable home life, liked to play outside, was on the honor roll and never, his grandfather said, “caused any trouble at all.”
Since moving to Maine, he’s had limited contact with his father and only recently began writing and calling his grandfather again.
According to Lyle Covey, Brody’s biological father, Reilly controlled the contact. And, when she gave him a phone number to call, it would often be disconnected the next time he dialed since the family moved around so much. He was frustrated, but said he couldn’t afford a lawyer to challenge custody.
When Brody’s parents broke up, “it was a bad breakup and, unfortunately, Brody’s getting the raw end of it,” his grandfather said.
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Brody is a well-groomed teen who was living in a state of filth and chaos, in a rapidly deteriorating building where crime was a daily occurrence.
He struggles with his emotions, according to a forensic psychologist who conducted a court-ordered evaluation, but is very intelligent.
While at Long Creek, tests ranked him in the 99th percentile in reading skills and equally high in verbal comprehension. He struggles with math, but is able to communicate well and understands — but doesn’t like — his current circumstances.
Brody was 12 when the fire was set; he turned 13 at Long Creek on June 18.
Reilly and Epps visit him, when they can get a ride to the locked facility in South Portland, and their social media posts indicate they expect him to come home soon.
Reilly, who is 31 years old, is effusive in expressing love for her family. Her Facebook posts declare that she “lives for” her kids, her family, her husband. She writes about cooking meals, and about how happy her youngest son was when he started school last September.
She posts pictures of birthday parties and family get-togethers, of Brody hugging his siblings and of Epps napping with their oldest daughter.
This is a family that, last year, set up a brightly decorated Christmas tree as soon as the Thanksgiving holiday passed. It’s also a home where sheets hung in place of curtains in the windows, but where sheets were not always on mattresses where the family slept on the floor.
It’s a home where police knocked on the door 24 times in 10 months, responding to calls for multiple animal bites, a couple of burglaries, disturbances, recovery of stolen property, five thefts, to serve a warrant, check on a weapons complaint and to place a probation hold on Epps.
During the same time, police made 36 more calls elsewhere in the building to deal with complaints from and about other tenants.
It’s been a home filled with profanity and where many of Epps’ friends stay stayed overnight or for extended periods of time.
The family’s shared hobby is Airsoft guns, and they own several models that retail for $350.
Epps — who has recently adopted the name Wazir Hanif Abdullah — plans to buy two broken sniper rifles for the 4-year-old to play with, according to his Facebook posts.
Reilly refers to herself and Epps as “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Epps refers to her as Mamalette Epps.
It’s a home with a father who has a long-held opiate habit and a longer criminal history, and a mother who has never been convicted of a crime.
It’s a home where neither parent works, and the family is dependent on social services for housing, food and transportation.
On Aug. 1, Reilly posted on her Facebook page that she was having “an OK day until Community Consepts didn’t pick Charles Epps (and their 4-year-old) and I up to go see Brody. That really pisses me off that’s 2 weeks in a row they did that to us I’m going to make a complaint to some1.”
Attempts to reach Reilly and Epps on their respective cell phones for this story were not successful.
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The year before the fire was the first time in years that Brody stayed in one place for so long, but it wasn’t a stable environment.
On May 9, 2012, Reilly and Epps signed the lease agreement for the apartment on Blake Street and moved in with Brody, his 3-year-old half-brother and the couple’s 4-month-old daughter. Reilly would soon become pregnant; her second daughter was born March 24.
The monthly rent was $575 and the lease was set to expire April 30, 2013.
On March 19, the city’s code enforcement department posted a notice of condemnation on the building, citing severe deterioration, “making it unfit for occupancy.”
Two days later, an Androscoggin County Superior Court order named Great Falls Property Management as receiver of the property, formerly owned by Watkins Property Management, giving Great Falls the power to evict tenants.
On April 10, the family was served an eviction notice. They had paid just one month’s rent since moving in and, by the time they were served notice, owed more than $6,700.
In addition to owing rent, the family was found to have caused “substantial damage” to the premises while living there, including punching holes in Sheetrock and paneling, breaking newel posts throughout the building, hoarding trash and marking walls with drawings and writings.
Epps was heard several times threatening to burn the condemned building to the ground, payback for being evicted.
But it is Brody who now sits accused of setting that building on fire.
He had never before been in trouble with police.
Several city officials have said Epps and his threats to destroy the apartments may very well have influenced Brody’s actions.
Sources also say Brody wanted to get out of the building, which city records say had plaster falling off walls and ceilings, leaks creating a hazard to the electrical system, rotting floors where toilets had come loose, unsanitary conditions in each kitchen, damaged doors, broken windows, mold growth and infestations of cockroaches, bedbugs and rats.
Smoke detectors throughout the building were missing.
A preliminary estimate to install emergency but temporary structural supports for the roof and porches was nearly $26,000.
The day after the eviction notice was posted — a Thursday — a Lewiston School District truancy officer knocked on the Reilly-Epps door looking for Brody, then a seventh-grader at Lewiston Middle School.
He had 11 unexcused absences from school, 10 between February and April, the time during which the building was being condemned and the eviction process started.
On this occasion the officer had to walk around reeking trash piled up in the hallways and took care to climb the stairs because most of the newel posts had been kicked out. Broken glass, furniture and discarded cigarette butts littered the building.
At first, the couple ignored the eviction notice, then they fought it.
Acting on behalf of the Reilly-Epps family and other tenants in the condemned building, Pine Tree Legal sought an order barring the city from shutting off the water or removing the tenants, asserting that moving would be a hardship for the tenants.
Early on the afternoon of April 29, code enforcement officers Tom Maynard and Jeff Baril went to inspect the building and encouraged tenants to dispose of trash blocking hallways and other areas.
Two hours later, the building started burning.
A week later, the eviction order was dismissed.
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Brody is an average-size 13-year-old, at 5 feet, 4 inches and 100 pounds. His mustache is just starting to come in. His hair has grown since he was confined to Long Creek, and he was dressed simply in a red T-shirt and black jeans for last Monday’s hearing.
Working to stifle a couple of yawns early in the proceeding, the teen leaned forward in his chair, listening intently while Assistant District Attorney Melanie Portas questioned forensic psychologist Andrew Wisch about Brody’s emotional health and intellectual capacity.
The purpose of the hearing was to determine the “voluntariness” of Brody’s confession that he started the fire.
Hours after the fire, when Brody’s family and others had been relocated to the Ramada Inn, police arrived to interview witnesses. It was a chaotic atmosphere and police asked Brody whether he would be willing to come to the station to talk. He agreed, rode to the department in a cruiser and was seated in an interrogation room where the conversation was recorded, all without a lawyer or parent present.
Fifteen minutes into the interview — after changing his story several times — the boy confessed to setting the fire.
He was never read his Miranda rights.
Lobozzo argued that a typical teen Brody’s age cannot understand the consequences of talking to police.
During the course of the hearing, Lobozzo elicited from Wisch that recent advances in science indicate there is a smaller frontal lobe in a 12-year-old than in an adult, meaning teens are just not as emotionally or mentally mature as adults and less able to control impulses in communications. They’re also more susceptible to being convinced they won’t get into trouble if they talk, especially if they have a good or “moral” reason for what they did.
The real question of the hearing was whether Brody was participating in a police interview or whether police were interrogating him.
When asked whether he felt he could leave the room, Brody told Wisch, “I had a feeling I kinda couldn’t.”
Lobozzo argued that sense of being detained goes beyond an interview and when police started asking him about a crime, they were obliged to read him his rights.
Wisch, who interviewed Brody at Long Creek for about three hours as part of his evaluation, said they talked about the boy’s anger, some of his past behaviors and episodes of acting out. None were remarkable, and some were connected to Brody’s devotion to his mother and defending her when Department of Health and Human Services workers came to the apartment. He sticks up for his mother.
By all accounts Brody sincerely loves Epps, too, and near the end of the confession tape when Epps was invited into the interrogation room, Epps seemed truly distraught that Brody hadn't reached out for help, telling the boy he loved him.
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Epps was born in Detroit in 1980 and went to high school in Florida. His first criminal conviction there was in 2000 when he was 19 years old. He was fined $20 on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon.
He was arrested 14 more times in Florida between 2000 and 2005, and convicted of domestic violence, armed robbery, carrying a concealed weapon and violating probation.
Charges of aggravated assault, possession of a concealed handcuff key, burglary, marijuana possession, destruction of a fire extinguisher and multiple criminal mischief charges were dismissed.
In Maine, his criminal history begins in 2011 with a conviction of theft, followed by convictions of criminal mischief and theft through 2013.
Epps was indicted in June on charges of burglary of a motor vehicle, theft and criminal mischief. He is accused of using a BB gun to break the window of a car and stealing a laptop, sunglasses and other property on April 7.
The computer was equipped with a LoJack recovery system and police were able to track the equipment to an apartment on Knox Street. The tenants of that apartment said they bought the laptop from Epps for $150, but that Epps had instructed them to tell police that Romeo Parent gave him the laptop.
Parent was killed in April and four men have since been charged in connection with his death.
According to a police affidavit, “Parent was associated with Epps and his group of friends,” and Epps allegedly told the laptop buyer on April 8 that “Parent was at the bottom of the 'Andro' (Androscoggin River) thus he would not be able to be interviewed . . . because dead guys can’t talk.”
Although police believed Parent to be a victim of homicide, his body was not found until April 12 in Jug Stream, just below the dam that separates Annabessacook and Cobbosseecontee lakes in Monmouth.
In an affidavit filed with the Androscoggin County Superior Court by State Police Detective Randall Keaten, the men charged with killing Parent told police the sheets used to wrap Parent's body were obtained from Epps’ apartment.
Epps has not been charged with any crimes related to Parent's death, but if convicted of the recent burglary and theft charges, he could be sentenced to up to 11 years in prison.
He is currently in violation of probation after testing positive for drugs, and is under restrictions of a protection-from-abuse order after the court found he stalked and abused a former girlfriend. The order is in effect until July 6, 2014.
Police place Epps on the highest level of repeat criminal violators who cannot be properly managed in the community without mental health evaluation and treatment.
According to court records, Epps says he has been diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder, borderline personality disorder and several other things, but he refuses to take medication.
He frequently complains about how tough it is to make “legal” money. According to applications he has made for court-appointed attorneys to represent him in his criminal cases, he lists Reilly’s TANF benefits as his only income. Most recently, that amounted to $463 a month.
When it become clear on the evening of the fire April 29 that Lewiston police intended to detain Brody on suspicion of arson, Epps became agitated, and told police he feared if the boy was removed from his home the TANF benefits would be reduced.
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A week after the fire, Reilly and Epps were married. They have since relocated to an apartment on Bartlett Street.
They are $550 behind in rent, according to a post Epps made on Facebook.
And they would like to have more children.