THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo
With nearly as many of his own supporters in the courtroom as there were Toledo firefighters in attendance, an Oregon man charged with setting a deadly North Toledo fire pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the 13 charges against him.
Ray Abou-Arab, 61, of 1311 Sierra Dr., is charged with two counts of aggravated murder, each with death penalty specifications; two counts of murder; eight counts of aggravated arson, and one count of tampering with evidence stemming from the Jan. 26 fire at 528 Magnolia St. that killed firefighters Stephen Machcinski, 42, and James Dickman, 31. The fire left three other Toledo firefighters injured and displaced the building’s tenants.
Family and friends of Mr. Abou-Arab filled one side of the gallery at Tuesday’s arraignment.
“I love you all,” Mr. Abou-Arab said as he passed by them as he was being led from the courtroom back to the Lucas County jail, where he is being held in lieu of $5.85 million bond.
Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Frederick McDonald imposed a gag order in the case, which has attracted intense media attention since the fire and Mr. Abou-Arab’s subsequent arrest Jan. 31.
The order prohibits defense attorneys and prosecutors from making any “public statements regarding this case unless the statements are made on the record while the Court is in session.”
The judge’s order further precludes counsel “or anyone acting on their behalf” from providing “any statements or information which may in any way create or influence any pretrial publicity in this case.”
Defense attorney Pete Rost, one of three representing Mr. Abou-Arab, told the court there was a pile of items removed from the charred building, but remain at the scene, to which the defense desires access.
“It’s been protected, but it’s frozen under ice and snow,” he said. “We have had experts at the scene. They would like to look at some of the items that are in that pile of material.”
Judge McDonald suggested attorneys file a request to examine the evidence at the scene, saying both sides should have equal access to the material.
Mr. Rost also filed a motion Tuesday asking that prosecutors release “any and all physical property seized during the investigation of this case, including … all computers, paperwork, automobiles, video/audio security cameras and recordings there from, and cell phones and cell phone records.”
Judge McDonald scheduled a pretrial hearing in the case for March 20. Noting that he expected interest in the case to remain high, the judge said he would give seating priority to the families of the victims and the family of the defendant.
“After that, everyone else will be first-come, first-served,” he said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-213-2134.