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Long IslandNassau

Judge in arson case rules on firefighter's confession

A confession by Caleb Lacey, the probationary volunteer firefighter accused of setting a February fire that killed four of his Lawrence neighbors, will not be described to the jury in his arson and murder trial unless Lacey's defense lawyer suggests in court that a confession never occurred, a Nassau judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Jerald Carter's ruling came three days after Lacey's defense lawyer, Christopher Cassar of Huntington, suggested in his opening argument that Lacey never had confessed to the crime.

In October, Carter decided that Lacey's videotaped confession could not be admitted as evidence in the trial because of its poor sound quality. Shortly afterward, the judge also ruled that the detective who interrogated Lacey, Carl Re, could not testify about the confession because it was made after Lacey invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

On Monday, Cassar told jurors that despite Re's intense questioning, Lacey, 20, "stuck to his guns" and maintained his innocence. "He said, 'I did not do this,' " Cassar said.

Prosecutor Michael Canty later objected to what he said was an effort by Cassar to mislead the jury.

Thursday, Carter seemed to agree.

"No matter what circumstances you perceive, he [Lacey] did make a statement to police that is contrary to what you said in your opening . . . If that's your strategy, it has consequences," Carter said to Cassar.

After Thursday's proceedings, Cassar asserted to a reporter that Lacey never confessed to the crime. That was different from what Carter and prosecutors say, and also from what Cassar has told several reporters in previous interviews. On at least three previous occasions, Cassar has said that Lacey confessed, but only under duress. He also has said that Lacey's confession did not match the facts of the case, which he said is further evidence that the confession was false.

Carter's ruling will affect the way that Cassar is able to cross-examine Re. He will not be able to suggest in his questioning that Lacey maintained his innocence throughout the interrogation.

Prosecutors and Cassar said they will respect Carter's ruling and had no other comment.