Judge suppresses teen's confession in arson case charges may be dropped

July 08, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Charges filed against a 19-year-old Columbia resident after a 1995 fire at the Wawa convenience store in Oakland Mills last year may be dropped because a Circuit Court judge has suppressed the teen-ager's confession, a prosecutor said.

Assistant State's Attorney Janine Rice said she plans to ask Circuit Judge James B. Dudley to reconsider his June ruling that a confession from Sam Phillips was involuntary.

Otherwise, she may have to withdraw charges -- including second-degree arson -- against Phillips at a hearing July 22. Phillips could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison and a $30,000 fine if convicted on all charges, including malicious destruction of property and setting fire to someone's property.

An arson charge against a Glen Burnie boy who is being prosecuted as a juvenile still stands, Rice said.

Dudley ruled that the confession police obtained from Phillips after the April 1995 fire that destroyed the store was not voluntary and that the man was not properly advised of his rights, Rice said.

Rice said police went to the 19-year-old's house on a tip. There, they talked to the man without referring specifically to the incident, basically laying a "guilt trip" on him to see whether he would admit a role, Rice said. He later confessed and took police to the home of the second boy charged in the case.

The two are charged with setting fire to stacks of newspapers outside the store about 3: 30 a.m. April 2.

The fire caused $400,000 damage, and set off an outcry in the community when Wawa announced it would not rebuild the store. The 25-year-old shop -- formerly in the Thunder Hill Neighborhood Center -- was the first Wawa in Columbia.

Residents still miss the store, said Oakland Mills Village Manager Erin Peacock.

"The space is still there. It's a reminder every day that people don't have their Wawa," Peacock said.

The property is up for sale, she said.

Pub Date: 7/08/96

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