2016-10-05 / Front Page

Motion to suppress confession in fatal fire denied

Staff Writer

Dylan Lee Collins, left, of Biddeford stands with his attorney, William Ashe, in his initial court appearance at York County Superior Court on Nov. 7, 2014. 
DINA MENDRO S/Journal Tribune Dylan Lee Collins, left, of Biddeford stands with his attorney, William Ashe, in his initial court appearance at York County Superior Court on Nov. 7, 2014. DINA MENDRO S/Journal Tribune BIDDEFORD — A Superior Court judge has denied a motion to suppress evidence in the case of a Biddeford man charged with murder and arson in connection with an apartment fire that killed two people.

Dylan Collins is accused of starting a fire at a multi-unit apartment building at 35 Main St. on Sept. 18, 2014, when he was 18 years old.

The blaze, which was started in the unit’s only exit stairway, killed third-floor tenants James Ford, 21, and Michael Moore, 23, who both died of smoke inhalation. Moore died Sept. 19, 2014, the day after the fire, while Ford died after 26 days in the hospital on Oct. 14, 2014.

Collins was detained while working at Monkey Trunks in Saco on Nov. 5, 2014, and was transported by police to a psychiatric care facility at Southern Maine Health Care.

He was placed under arrest two days later and charged with two counts of depraved indifference murder and two counts of arson. He pleaded not guilty in December 2014.

Collins’ attorney, William Ashe, filed a motion to suppress Collins’ confession of the crime in York County Superior Court on March 24, 2015. Ashe attested in the motion that Collins was “detained without reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime had been committed,” and that Collins was subject to interrogation in violation of his Miranda rights.

Justice John H. O’Neil Jr. denied that motion on Sept. 26, saying Collins had voluntarily signed a valid Miranda warning waiver and was not subject to aggressive police interrogation, according to court documents.

“In this case the Court concludes that there were no promises of leniency, there was no threat of force or other coercive practice, nor other promises utilized to break down the defendant’s will so as to render his confession involuntary,” O’Neil wrote. “Taken all of the facts collectively the Court concludes that the confession was voluntary.”

O’Neil acknowledged that, although Collins may have made a poor tactical decision in speaking with police, his doing so did not render his confession to the crime involuntary.

Collins’ writing of an apology letter to the victims was cited as a potential act of trickery on behalf of police; however, O’Neil acknowledged the act as a “commonplace” act of “sophisticated police interrogation.”

O’Neil said the decision to write an apology letter in his interrogation interview may have been motivated by feelings of internal guilt, and that he was conscious of his decision.

“His answers to questioning were responsive with no signs of delusional thinking ... The court concludes that Mr. Collins did engage in a rational thought process in deciding to speak with police,” O’Neil wrote.

Collins’ mental health has come into question, and has been a point of contention surrounding his confession.

Collins allegedly told a police investigator he set the fatal fire to scare his ex-girlfriend who lived in the same apartment complex as Ford and Moore. He said he saw the girl, with whom he apparently had a two-month relationship in 2013, kissing another person the day before the blaze occurred.

Collins’ mother, Donna Pitcher, reportedly contacted police in July 2014 because she found flammable objects in her son’s room in addition to bomb-making materials. She called again in October to say she was concerned with her son’s behavior.

Police said they obtained a digital diary kept by Collins outlining his desire to harm others and himself, and confessing to the crime.

Collins is being held at York County Jail in Alfred, where, in late November 2014, he jumped from a landing off the second floor to apparently inflict harm upon himself. He had been waiting for space to free up at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, where he was ordered to undergo a 60-day psychiatric observation.

Despite concerns regarding Collins’ mental state, O’Neil said in his denial it was the conclusion of the court that Collins voluntarily submitted his confession to police.

“The court concludes that the State has proven with proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the confession was voluntary and that a valid Miranda warning occurred,” O’Neil said. “Accordingly, the Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Statements is denied.”

Jury selection for Collins’ trial is set to begin Feb. 27, said Tim Feeley, spokesman for the Maine Attorney General’s Office, on Tuesday. An actual trial date has not been set.

Ashe did not return a request for comment by press time Tuesday.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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