Jury will hear suspect’s police interview, judge rules
Ryan Summerlin March 8, 2013
EAGLE, Colorado – An accused arsonist’s alleged confession and DNA evidence will be part of the evidence during his trial next month, a District Court judge ruled Friday.
Andrew Wells, 31, of Eagle, was arrested after he allegedly tried to set fire to two East Vail apartment buildings. His former girlfriend lived in one of them.
After he was arrested and jailed later that September day, he allegedly told Vail police he tried to set the fires.
During videotaped police questioning, Wells told Vail Police Detective Justin Liffick, “I’ll talk.”
Liffick replied, “I’ll listen.”
Wells’ attorneys, Jim Little and Terry O’Connor, had asked District Court Judge Tom Moorhead to throw out Wells’ statements to police, as well as DNA evidence allegedly tying Wells to the crime scene.
Moorhead denied the motion following Friday’s hearing, saying Wells initiated the contact with police at Wells’ home in Eagle. Moorhead ruled that Wells’ statements were his own idea, and that Vail police acted properly in collecting DNA evidence from Wells.
“Wells was in control of himself and his decisions,” Moorhead said in making his ruling. “He did not state he did not want to talk to police without his lawyer. He was never put under any pressure by the police. The video shows he was making decisions of his own free will.”
“The issue is not whether Mr. Wells knowingly agreed to his Miranda rights, it’s whether it was lawful for the officers to continue questioning him,” Little said. “When the accused asks for his attorney, police cannot ask him more questions unless the accused initiates the conversation. Since they did, the evidence and statements should be thrown out.”
Trial set for April
Well’s jury trial is scheduled for April 9-12. He faces 14 felony charges, including seven counts of attempted murder, one count for each of the seven people sleeping inside the East Vail condo building when he allegedly tried to block their escape route by setting fire to the building’s only staircase.
Wells’ former girlfriend was living in the building, but was not there when the fire was set.
During earlier testimony, Liffick said Wells told him she broke his heart and he was seeking revenge.
The charges stem from a pair of arson attempts in East Vail during the predawn hours of Sept. 22. Wells was arrested later that day at his home in Eagle.
Vail police were initially called by one of the building’s residents reporting rocks being thrown onto the roof. The rocks were being thrown by a “shadowy figure,” who escaped by “skulking” through some bushes.
When Vail Police Officer Dan Torgerson arrived moments later, the man who called police ran toward him exclaiming, “There’s a fire in Building E!” Torgerson said.
The flames were 2 feet high by that time, spreading up in the wooden stairwell, the only escape route from the building’s upper floors, Torgerson said.
Torgerson sprinted to his police car and grabbed his fire extinguisher. In the seconds it took him to sprint back the flames had grown to 3 feet. He emptied his fire extinguisher onto the fire, knocking down the flames just as the Vail fire department arrived around one minute later to completely extinguish the blaze.
Wells remains in the Eagle County jail on $765,000 bond.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.