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In re L.L.

April 22, 1998

IN RE L.L., A MINOR (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE V. L.L., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 96--JD--111 Honorable Steven M. Nash, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rathje

THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

On April 1, 1996, the State filed a delinquency petition charging respondent, L.L., a 13-year-old minor, with one count of arson (720 ILCS 5/20--1(a) (West 1996)) and two counts of aggravated arson (720 ILCS 5/20--1.1(a)(2), (a)(3) (West 1996)) in connection with a fire set at a residence located at 2902 Collins Avenue in Rockford, on March 29, 1996. Respondent's motion to suppress the statements he made to the police at the police station during the night of March 30, 1996, was heard as part of the trial and was denied. Following the adjudicatory hearing, the trial court found that L.L. had committed two counts of aggravated arson and adjudicated him a delinquent minor. On July 3, 1996, the trial court ordered respondent committed to the Juvenile Division of the Department of Corrections.

Respondent timely appeals, arguing that, under the circumstances of the interrogation at the police station where his parents were prevented from seeing him, his statements to the police were not voluntary and should have been suppressed. We agree for the reasons that follow. We reverse the judgment, and we remand the cause for a new adjudicatory hearing with directions to suppress respondent's statements.

We recite only the facts relevant to the circumstances under which respondent made his statements to the law enforcement officers. Investigator Greg Castronovo of the Rockford fire department testified that he investigated the fire at 2902 Collins Avenue on March 29. The fire took place at about 9:42 p.m. He had completed a four-day course as a juvenile officer. He focused his attention on the back porch of the residence that was consumed by the fire, sampling materials there because he had detected an odor of kerosene. The pattern of the burned area indicated to him that an accelerant might have been used to spread the fire. He found a blue plastic container and a clear white milk-type plastic container that would have been on the porch at the time of the fire.

Castronovo interviewed persons in the neighborhood. He spoke with Michelle Schmidt, who mentioned that respondent and his brother Charles had problems with Gary N., the grandson of Gerald Keen. Gary and Gerald were residents of the burned home. Gary led Castronovo to respondent as a suspect in setting the fire, telling Castronovo that respondent had been bragging about having started a fire at the residence on a previous date and had threatened to burn Gary's home. Castronovo asked Officer Patrick Hoey to accompany him to respondent's home. Respondent agreed to go to the Public Safety Building (police station or station) for questioning that night. They informed respondent's brother Charles and someone named Candy, who mentioned she might know where respondent's mother would be. At about 1 a.m., Castronovo was present during a portion of the questioning of respondent by Detective Skaggs. The following morning respondent's pants, tennis shoes, and shirt were taken from him and tagged as evidence for testing (for residue).

Patrick Keehnen, a Rockford fire fighter and youth officer, arrived at the station at 12:30 a.m. and assisted Detective Skaggs in interviewing respondent at 1:20 a.m. on March 30. Skaggs read respondent his rights. Respondent initially could not understand why he was at the station to be interviewed about the fire, and as the interview progressed, respondent became more and more upset. In his first statement, respondent said he had been playing with friends and went over to Joey H.'s house. On his way home, they saw the fire. After further questioning, respondent changed some of the details of his account. The officers told him his own story was inconsistent and was also inconsistent with that of others at the scene, including his brother Charles. The officers told respondent he was lying and was trying to hide something.

Respondent made a second statement that was later reduced to writing and that resulted in his being charged. At about 4:30 a.m., respondent was transported for processing. He became angry that he was the only one being charged and said he was glad that the fire happened. In his second statement, respondent indicated that a boy named Paul went onto the porch and started the fire with kerosene. Keehnen also stated that respondent had a petroleum odor. Keehnen said he did not see respondent's mother until about 7:20 a.m. on March 30. He was aware that she was at the station when he came out of the interview room at about 2:30 a.m. Skaggs informed him that respondent's father and mother were both in the waiting room. Keehnen said he became aware that they arrived towards the end of the second statement.

According to the testimony regarding Keehnen's report, after the inconsistencies developed in respondent's first statement, Skaggs returned to inform them that respondent's parents had been contacted and were en route to the station. Skaggs had spoken to the parents when they called. Keehnen learned during the first part of the interview that respondent was 13 years old and was in the sixth grade. Toward the end of his second statement, he asked if his parents were coming to the station. The officers said yes. Keehnen did not ask respondent whether he was in a special education class. Respondent signed his Miranda warning at 1:24 a.m.

The court inquired of Keehnen whether respondent ever asked for a lawyer or asked to terminate the interview. Keehnen replied that he did not and that respondent spoke willingly. It was after respondent's inconsistencies were pointed out that he began to get upset and stated that his friends were wrong.

Keehnen then recounted respondent's second statement. Respondent said he wanted to tell the truth. Respondent met a person named Paul at the park where they were playing basketball. Paul told him that he did not like Gary and wanted to beat him up. As it began to get dark, Paul wanted to go up to Gary's house and do something to it--possibly burn it down. Respondent, Willie "Too Tall" H. (Willie H.), Joey H., Charles, and Paul went to Gary's house. Paul said he wanted to burn it down. Respondent was with Paul when Paul ran up onto the back porch and the other three boys went across the street toward the alley. Paul took a plastic jug of kerosene and threw it over a red coat on a blue plastic container just to the left of the door and lighted it. The fire went up quickly.

When the officers asked respondent how he knew it was kerosene and why he had an odor about him, respondent then said he was on the porch trying to talk Paul out of starting the fire. They asked respondent hypothetical questions such as why they might find his fingerprints on a particular container of kerosene. He responded that they probably would because he struggled with Paul to stop him. Paul lighted the fire with a pink, childproof plastic lighter. When asked if he had such a lighter that Paul possibly got from him, respondent said no--he had a pink plastic lighter but it was not childproof. When asked if there would be any reason why a neighbor might have seen him on the porch and not Paul, respondent replied that he ran off the porch first and Paul ran off second and went in a different direction. Respondent went down the alley and ended up with his friends.

A few minutes after the officers obtained the written statement, respondent was informed that he was being charged. He became angry that he was the only one being charged. Respondent said he did not know Paul's last name or how to get in touch with him. While waiting to be processed, respondent was told that the police would be contacting Joey, Charles, and Willie to find out what they knew about Paul. Respondent answered that those "guys are so stupid that they will probably get the story all goofed up." By talking to respondent's parents, the police later obtained the name of Paul S., who was a distant relative of respondent. Paul S., the possible suspect, and other alibi witnesses testified that Paul S. was elsewhere at the time of the incident and denied that Paul was at Collins Avenue that day. After further investigation, Keehnen was not able to find anyone who placed Paul S. at the scene of the fire with respondent.

The testimony of respondent and his brother attempted to implicate Joey as the person who lighted the fire. Respondent said that Joey was going to "hit" Gary. Respondent tried to talk Joey out of his plan. It was Joey who took the milk container that had kerosene in it, poured it on a coat atop a barrel on the porch, and set the coat afire. Respondent grabbed Joey's arm, trying to stop him, but Joey lighted the fire. Respondent then ran away and joined up with his brother. Respondent explained that when he was ...


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