Judge questions lawyers about evidence in Abou-Arab caseWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
A day after the one-year anniversary of the deaths of two Toledo firefighters from injuries sustained at a North Toledo apartment fire, the man accused of starting the fire appeared in court.
Ray Abou-Arab, 62, of Oregon appeared before Judge Frederick McDonald of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas on Jan. 27 for a pretrial conference.
McDonald questioned lawyers from both sides on several motions related to testing and storing of evidence in the case and said he planned to issue an opinion on several motions by the end of the week.
Abou-Arab is charged with aggravated arson, aggravated murder and tampering with evidence related to the fire that killed Pvt. Stephen Machcinski and Pvt. James Dickman on Jan. 26, 2014. He owned the building at 528 Magnolia St., which has since been razed.
The motion that prompted the most discussion involved the pending analysis of “touch DNA” evidence taken from six objects at the site, including at which lab the tests will be performed and who will cover the costs.
The defense wants to run its own tests on the material or be allowed to have a representative witness the test conducted by the state lab. However, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) does not allow non-BCI employees to “oversee or participate in testing” nor does it allow filming of tests. It’s also unclear whether there was enough material collected to conduct two separate tests or whether there is enough DNA evidence remaining on the objects to let the defense take its own swabs.
A possible solution is to agree to do the analysis at an independent testing facility at which both the state and the defense could have representatives present. Attorneys from both side seemed open to that suggestion. However, defense attorney Pete Rost argued that because the default testing lab is BCI, which would be paid for by the state, and BCI won’t allow a defense expert to watch, the state should pay for an independent lab and the defense would cover the cost of the expert to oversee rather than split the cost.
Another issue involved who should pay for transportation of a portion of the apartment building’s garage wall from a storage facility in Huber Heights back to Toledo for defense review. The judge questioned who had authorized the original transport — the defendant’s insurance company, police or fire investigators or Abou-Arab’s insurance company — in order to determine which side should pay for the transport to bring it back, billed for $2,400.
The defense asserted the transportation should be paid for by the state since the defense didn’t authorize the transport, which apparently happened before Abou-Arab was charged. The state argued that the insurance company appeared to have been the entity to authorize the transport, as it conducts its own parallel investigation into the cause of the fire, and the cost should fall to the insurance company.
Among those in attendance at the hearing were Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago and Machcinski’s brother, Rich Machcinski, a firefighter with Fort Wayne Fire Department, Dickman’s sister Libby Cheney of Crestline, Ohio, and several former apartment building residents, including Tracy Bishop, were also in attendance. Bishop organized a vigil that was held at the site Jan. 26. Many of the victims’ family members were in town for anniversary memorial ceremonies.
Abou-Arab is next scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 19.
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