Prosecutors dismiss arson charges against teenager

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LEWISTON — The Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday dismissed three arson charges against a 13-year-old boy charged with setting a fire last spring that destroyed three downtown apartment buildings.

A judge threw out last fall’s confession by then-12-year-old Brody Covey made during a May interview with police as well as a second confession captured by police that Covey made to his mother at the station.

Covey’s attorney, Allan Lobozzo, called the dismissal “a great result for a great kid.”

Covey’s fate remains in flux. He has been living at an undisclosed therapeutic facility outside Lewiston and has been going to school. His half-siblings were taken into custody last year by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and Covey was later added to that order, pending a hearing, according to several sources.

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District Attorney Norman Croteau said in a document filed Tuesday in 8th District Court that there was not enough evidence to prove the case against Covey beyond a reasonable doubt without his suppressed statements. Fire investigators were unable to sift through the rubble left from the April fire, which burned so hot and fast that it left little physical evidence in its wake.

Tuesday’s action means that charges have been dropped to date against two of four defendants charged in a spate of three fires that burned 10 downtown apartment buildings and displaced more than 100 people over the course of a week.

A judge found last summer that Bryan Wood, 24, was incompetent to stand trial and was not likely to be found competent.

Brian Morin, 30, is one of the two remaining defendants. He has undergone three psychological exams: one to determine whether he was competent to assist in his defense, a second to determine his state of mind at the time of the fires and a third to provide a more complete picture of his mental state. His lawyer has filed motions to suppress statements Morin made to police.

The case against a second 13-year-old boy, Abdi Ibrahim, was suspended after a judge ruled that prosecutors couldn’t show the boy was competent to stand trial.

Ibrahim, like Covey, is housed at an undisclosed residential facility outside Lewiston and is attending school.

Eighth District Court Judge John Beliveau wrote that there is a “substantial probability” Ibrahim will be competent “in the foreseeable future.” Until then, he will remain in the custody of DHHS for evaluation, the judge wrote.  

In the May interview, police said Covey admitted he set a fire April 29 on the second-floor back porch at 105 Blake St., outside his family’s apartment.

Eighth District Court Judge Rick Lawrence wrote in his court order that Covey’s confession to the detective should be suppressed because he was in police custody but had not been read his rights at the time he made those statements.

Lawrence 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 because it likely wouldn’t have occurred had it not been for the initial, unconstitutional confession.

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 boy didn’t understand the consequences of talking to police. Lobozzo also argued that any incriminating statements Covey made following 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.”

Prosecutors had 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 and 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 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 of how he had done it.

After Judge Lawrence threw out Covey’s confessions, the Maine Attorney General’s Office released a statement last fall ruling out an appeal of the judge’s ruling.

Workers from DHHS 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.

Ibrahim was arrested and charged with four counts of arson in a fire that burned four buildings on Pierce and Bartlett streets.

Morin and Wood were charged with arson in a fire that burned two vacant apartment buildings on Bartlett Street and an occupied apartment building on Horton Street.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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