Judge orders suppression of Lewiston boy’s arson confession

Todd Gendron from Gendron & Gendron uses his excavator to demolish the building on Blake Street in Lewiston Tuesday afternoon after Monday's devastating fire that destroyed three buildings, displacing 35 families.
RUSS DILLINGHAM | SUN JOURNAL
Todd Gendron from Gendron & Gendron uses his excavator to demolish the building on Blake Street in Lewiston Tuesday afternoon after Monday's devastating fire that destroyed three buildings, displacing 35 families.
Posted Oct. 16, 2013, at 12:34 p.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — A judge on Wednesday ordered that a confession made by a 13-year-old local boy charged with three counts of arson in connection with a rash of apartment building fires in the city’s downtown last spring be suppressed.

Eighth District Court Judge Rick Lawrence ruled on a motion to suppress statements the then-12-year-old made to a police detective during a May interview.

In that police interview, he admitted setting a fire on the second floor back porch at 105 Blake St. on April 29.

Lawrence wrote in his order that the boy’s confession to the detective should be suppressed because he was in police custody at the time he made those statements.

The judge also ruled that the boy’s confession to his mother while in the police interview room following his interrogation by a detective is not admissible at trial.

The boy’s attorney, Allan Lobozzo, had argued in court that police neglected to read the then-12-year-old of 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 he made after his police interview should be viewed as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

Lawrence agreed, writing: “The statements made by the juvenile to (the boy’s step-father) and to his mother could not be obtained through a source that was wholly independent of the primary constitutional violation.”

“I’m delighted for (him),” Lobozzo said Wednesday. “This is the right result supported by the right facts and the proper legal conclusion, really boiling down 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.”

Prosecutors have little physical evidence connecting the boy 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 had gone to the Ramada Inn to talk to witnesses, including the boy and his now stepfather, where they had been temporarily housed.

The boy 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 he whether he started the fire. He denied the accusation at first. Morin told the boy he “had a right to be angry; anyone would be angry being in there,” living in a condemned building. The boy then admitted to setting the fire.

The boy’s mother was called by police to come to the station after he confessed to Morin. In a conversation with her in the police interview room, teh boy called the fire an accident. He then 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 the local boy from Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland to a home outside of the city before the start of the school year.

Meanwhile, workers from the Department of Health and Human Services removed The boy’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 connection with 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.

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