LEWISTON — A judge on Wednesday ordered that the confession of a 13-year-old local boy charged with three counts of arson in a rash of apartment building fires in the city's downtown be suppressed.
Eighth District Court Judge Rick Lawrence ruled on a motion to suppress statements made to police by then-12-year-old Brody Covey during a May interview.
In that police interview, Covey admitted setting a fire April 29 on the second-floor back porch at 105 Blake St.
Lawrence wrote in his order that Covey's confession to the detective should be suppressed because he was in police custody but had not been read his rights when he made those statements.
The judge also ruled that Covey's confession to his mother while in the police interview room following his interrogation by a detective is not admissible at trial.
Covey’s attorney, Allan Lobozzo, had argued in court that police neglected to read Covey his legal rights after he became a suspect during the interview, and that the teen didn't understand the consequences of talking to police. Lobozzo also argued that any incriminating statements Covey made after his police interview should be viewed as "fruit of the poisonous tree."
Lawrence agreed, writing: "The statements made by the juvenile to Mr. (Charles) Epps (Covey's stepfather) and to his mother could not be obtained through a source that was wholly independent of the primary constitutional violation."
"I'm delighted for Brody," Lobozzo said Wednesday. "This is the right result supported by the right facts and the proper legal conclusion, really boiling down to the fact that they didn't read a 12-year-old his rights. So, anything that flows from that violation is fruit of the poisonous tree and also gets excluded."
District Attorney Norman Croteau said Wednesday he would review the decision with the prosecutor handling the case before deciding whether to appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. He said the state could also go ahead with its case — without a confession — or drop the charges.
Prosecutors likely have little physical evidence connecting Covey to the fires. The Blake Street building was destroyed. Fire investigators had to view the scene from a crane. The remains of the building were demolished within days of the fire.
On May 2, three days after fire consumed the Blake Street building along with two other buildings on Bates and Pine streets, leaving 75 people homeless, Lewiston police went to the Ramada Inn where the fire victims had been temporarily housed to talk to witnesses, including Covey and Epps.
Covey was driven to the police station in a police car and seated in a small, “fairly stark” concrete-block room alone with a single detective for a videotaped interview. Less than 10 minutes into the interview, Detective Robert Morin asked Covey whether he started the fire. Covey at first denied it. Morin told Covey he “had a right to be angry; anyone would be angry being in there,” living in a condemned building. Covey then admitted to setting the fire.
Covey's mother, Jessica Reilly, was called by police to come to the station after Covey confessed to Morin. In a conversation with her in the police interview room, Covey called the fire an accident. He told her he set the fire but changed details about how he had done it.
He has been released from a juvenile corrections center and transferred to a therapeutic residential foster home. An effort was made to move him from Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland to a home outside the city before the start of the school year.
Meanwhile, workers from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services removed Covey's half-siblings from the Bartlett Street apartment of his mother and stepfather.
Less than one week after the Blake Street fire, three others were charged with setting two fires that burned more downtown apartment buildings.
Another then-12-year-old local boy was arrested and charged with four counts of arson for setting a fire that burned four buildings on Pierce and Bartlett streets. A court hearing to determine his competency to stand trial is scheduled for mid-November.
Two men were charged with arson in a fire that burned two vacant apartment buildings on Bartlett Street and an occupied apartment building on Horton Street. One of the men, Bryan Wood, was found not competent to stand trial and released. The other, Brian Morin, is at Riverview Psychiatric Center, where he is undergoing a psychological evaluation.