The lead detective who interrogated Caleb Lacey of Lawrence, the probationary firefighter accused of murder and arson, testified Wednesday that Lacey admitted to using a cigarette to set the Feb. 19 blaze that killed four of his neighbors.

"I used a cigarette," Nassau Homicide Det. Carl Re testified Lacey said during a March 20 interview at the homicide squad office.

Re's testimony was the first to outline in detail how police believe Lacey, 20, set the fire in a neighborhood building, killing Morena Vanegas, 46; her son Saul Preza, 19; and Morena and Edit Vanegas' daughters, Andrea, 10, and Susanna, 9.

It came two days after Nassau County Court Judge Jerald Carter threw out a videotape of detectives' interview with Lacey because the tape's audio quality was poor.

Under cross-examination by attorney Chris Cassar of Huntington, Re admitted that he continued to question Lacey after the suspect had invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

Cassar also elicited testimony from Re that the confession the detectives said they garnered from Lacey came after many hours of interrogation - and after Lacey said many times to the two detectives that he no longer wanted to talk.

"They were badgering him, your honor," Cassar told the judge during the last day of a pretrial hearing that will determine whether key pieces of evidence, such as Lacey's confession, will be allowed at trial.

Re testified that Lacey drew a diagram and showed him how he taped three pieces of computer paper together, draped the papers along the stairs leading into 232 Lawrence Ave., lighted it and watched it burn until he saw a "blue and orange flame."

Lacey told detectives that he then drove away, Re said.

Re, who testified under direct examination by prosecutor Michael Canty, said the admission came after Lacey repeatedly denied setting the fire.

Under Canty's questioning, Re indicated that Lacey was not forced to talk. He said Lacey was not handcuffed, that he was offered food several times and that he was allowed to take as many breaks as he wanted from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

On cross-examination, though, Cassar elicited testimony from Re that Lacey at times had pleaded for the questioning to stop.

"He would have told them he had shot the pope if they told him he could go home," Cassar said of Lacey, who he said was hardly a match for veteran homicide detectives.

Canty said Lacey did not have a constitutional right to leave because he was under arrest at the time and that he had no right to a phone call.

Re said Lacey thought he would set the fire and that Saul Preza would move from the area. Lacey, Re has testified, had competed with Preza over Lacey's girlfriend.

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