LIMA — The trial date for a Lima teenager charged with starting a fire that killed his half-brother was vacated Friday amid a defense motion alleging that the constitutional rights of Jervon Fernandez-Wesley were violated by a Lima Police Department detective early in the investigation.
Defense Attorney Marcus Moll in December filed the motion to suppress statements made by Fernandez to Detective Steve Stechschulte following an Aug. 15 fire that claimed the life of 14-year-old Michael Gillyard.
Moll alleges that Stechschulte solicited statements from Fernandez-Wesley prior to issuing a proper Miranda warning during an interview that took place at the Lima Police Department. As a result, Moll said, any statements made by Fernandez following the warning were “involuntarily made … after law enforcement officials made improper and inaccurate assertions of facts.” Moll said those statements should be suppressed and not presented to a jury.
Stechschulte took the witness stand during Friday’s hearing and said that during his initial talks with Fernandez the teenager was not a suspect in the blaze. The detective said his initial focus was on “a gang of individuals” who had reportedly been at the 128 W. Circular St. residence earlier in the evening prior to the fire. Stechschulte said he had obtained information that “kids had been causing trouble there” in what could possibly have been gang activity.
Stechschulte did admit under questioning that he initially failed to read Fernandez his Miranda rights during one interview session but corrected the oversight quickly.
Fernandez faces charges of aggravated murder, murder and aggravated arson for causing the death of Gillyard by allegedly starting the fire at the West Circular Street location.
Upon arriving, firemen observed heavy smoke coming from the duplex. There were people trying to evacuate the structure. They were informed there was still someone inside that residence and went inside to perform a search.
Gillyard was found in an upstairs bedroom. He was pronounced dead on arrival at a Lima hospital.
Court records show that Fernandez-Wesley initially told police he was sleeping at a friend’s house at the time of the fire. He later admitted he started the blaze by lighting a stuffed animal on fire in the bathroom, as well as lighting several papers in the kitchen.
He allegedly told investigators he started the fire to “hurt anyone in the house.”