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An Oregon man charged with setting a fire that led to the deaths of two Toledo firefighters was considered a witness in the case until surveillance video from the scene made him a suspect, a Toledo police detective testified Friday.
It was then — after she already had interviewed him twice the day of the fire — that Detective Deborah Hahn said she read Ray Abou-Arab his Miranda warning, including his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney.
Defense attorneys for Mr. Abou-Arab, 61, of 1311 Sierra Dr. have asked Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Frederick McDonald to suppress the statements he made to police the day of the Jan. 26 fire and in the days that followed, contending his constitutional rights were violated.
Mr. Abou-Arab, who is being held in the Lucas County jail on a $5.85 million bond, 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 a fire at a Magnolia Street apartment building he owned. Toledo fire Pvts. Stephen Machcinski, 42, and James Dickman, 31, died fighting the blaze.
Defense attorneys contend in their motion to suppress that Mr. Abou-Arab made “a number of uncounseled, coerced, and/or involuntary statements to law enforcement personnel.”
Detective Hahn testified that she spoke with Mr. Abou-Arab twice at the Safety Building on the day of the fire, first for about 20 minutes and later for about 45 minutes. The detective said she smelled alcohol on Mr. Abou-Arab’s breath but did not ask him if he’d been drinking because he did not exhibit the usual signs of intoxication — glassy eyes, slurred speech, or unsteadiness on his feet.
She said she did not read him his rights before either of their conversations because he was considered a witness. That changed the next day
“The following day on the 27th we had obtained a video from 528 Magnolia and I observed Mr. Abou-Arab on it,” Detective Hahn said.
Without disclosing details, she said the video caused her to want to re-interview him. Sgt. Tim Noble drove to Mr. Abou-Arab’s home and brought him downtown where, Detective Hahn said, she read him his Miranda warning and believed he understood it. She then questioned him for three to four hours.
“At any time during that three or four hours did he ask you to stop questioning him?” Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division for the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, asked her.
“No,” she replied.
“At any time during that three or four hours did he ask for an attorney?” he asked.
“No,” she replied.
Defense attorney Sam Kaplan questioned her repeatedly about a phone call placed to the detective bureau that day by Toledo attorney James MacHarg for Mr. Abou-Arab. The detective said she did not call Mr. MacHarg back that day or ever.
Sgt. Laurie Renz also took the stand Friday, saying she too interviewed Mr. Abou-Arab Jan. 27 after reading him his rights. Mr. Kaplan pointed out that early in their videotaped interview, Mr. Abou-Arab said, “I should ask my lawyer” and later said, “I think I want to call my lawyer.”
Sergeant Renz said to her, those statements were “not definite.” She said she did not stop the interview because he said he still wanted to talk to her.
In addition to asking the court to suppress Mr. Abou-Arab’s statements, defense attorneys are seeking to suppress “any and all videotape evidence” from the fire scene, contending it was “under the exclusive ownership” of Mr. Abou-Arab and his wife and was obtained without a search warrant.
Arguments on the video evidence are to be made when the motion hearing continues Aug. 14.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.