One of the defendants accused of starting the Lake Christine Fire in July contends that statements he made to law enforcement minutes after the destructive blaze ignited should not be admissible at a potential trial because police never read him his rights.
The issue before an Eagle County District Court judge appears to hinge upon whether Richard Miller, 23, of El Jebel, was technically in law enforcement custody or, as the district attorney’s office argues, he was voluntarily discussing what led to the fire.
Defense attorneys for Miller, who is charged with felony arson, filed a motion in late February seeking to suppress what he told police — he allegedly denied, but shortly thereafter admitted using incendiary tracer rounds fired illegally at the Lake Christine gun range outside Basalt on July 3, according to his arrest warrant, rounds allegedly fired amid high fire danger.
He and Allison Marcus, 22, described in court documents as Miller’s girlfriend, have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Each faces three arson counts, related to the loss of three homes in the wildfire, stemmed from Marcus acknowledging to law enforcement that she had fired at least one incendiary round at the shooting range and saying she was sorry for causing the fire, according to police reports and court filings.
Miller’s motion to suppress, filed Feb. 13, argues that the El Jebel resident was questioned by an Eagle County Sheriff’s deputy, Josiah Maner, roughly five minutes after Marcus said she had called 911 (the fire ignited in the slim portion of Eagle County in the midvalley). This questioning happened in the parking lot of the Lake Christine gun range.
“Upon contacting the defendants, Officer Maner initiated a line of questioning seeking information about the defendants and their guns and ammunition,” wrote Josh Maximon, Miller’s lawyer. “Officer Maner also directed the defendants to provide him with the guns and ammunition, directed the defendants to move their car, let others leave the scene but not the defendants, and restricted the defendants’ ability to move around in the shooting range parking lot.”
“Officer Maner never provided Miranda warnings in this case,” Maximon wrote. “As a result, any custodial statements made by the defendants to [deputy] Maner during this interrogation must be suppressed.”
The district attorney’s office in the 5th Judicial District opposed the motion in a Feb. 27 filing, disputing the key contention of whether the defendants were actually being technically detained by law enforcement.
‘The defendant was not in custody for the purposes of Miranda when statements were made to law enforcement officers conducting an initial investigation of the fire,” the DA response says.
The prosecution also shot back about multiple alleged facts, including that the defendants had, under the law, no compelling reason to respond.
“The defendant was never in custody on July 3, 2018, for purposes of Miranda,” the prosecution filing claims. “The statements made by the defendant were voluntary, as there was no coercion by any law enforcement officer.”