Hearing continues for teen accused in Lockport fire

Posted at 1:47 PM, Feb 23, 2017

It was day two of a fact-finding hearing in Niagara County Family Court for a 14-year-old teenager accused of criminal mischief, arson, and criminally negligent homicide in connection to a massive fire in Lockport this past August.

The fire caused $13 million in losses to HTI Recycling on Ohio Street.  It also took the life of Joe Phillips, 14, who became stuck in a burning building.

Prosecutors say Phillips and the teen now charged entered a boarded-up, empty office building with the purpose of setting papers on fire.  Phillips died but his friend was able to escape.

Niagara County Attorneys introduced evidence showing the boys were trying to call each other on cell phones after the fire started.  A voicemail retrieved from the friend's cell phone by Lockport Police was played in court.  The call was made at 6:35 p.m. on August 10, 2016 as the fire was growing in intensity.  In the voicemail message, the panicked and desperate voice of Joe Phillips is heard using profanity and saying through muffled audio "I am going to die" and "I love you man."

"That certainly would have been directed at my client, which I said from day one, we think is his best friend," said Defense Attorney A. Angelo DiMillo.

The voicemail was downloaded from the teen defendant's iPhone by police on the night of the fire.  However, in preparing for the fact-finding hearing in family court, it was found that cell phone videos relating to the fire were also on the defendant's phone.

Prosecutors planned to show those in court but objections by the defense forced Family Court Judge John Batt to adjourn the proceedings so an evidentiary hearing can be held on March 16th.  The hearing will determine if the videos can be introduced as evidence or will be barred because acquiring them exceeded consent given by the defendant's mother.

7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly is in Lockport and filed this update.