The suspect is a slow learner and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, his mother said.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN — The lawyer who represents the man accused of a fire that killed six people wants a mental evaluation to be done, concerned that his client can’t read.
Youngstown attorney Martin E. Yavorcik said Tuesday that he discovered the problem when he brought legal documents to 18-year-old Michael A. Davis at the Mahoning County jail.
Davis, of Bennington Avenue, is charged with six counts of aggravated murder and 11 counts of aggravated arson and is being held in solitary confinement without bond.
“He didn’t finish high school and says he can’t read at all,” said Yavorcik, who was court-appointed to represent Davis. “He wouldn’t look at the papers I brought and said, ‘I can’t read,’ so I have concerns.”
Yavorcik said he will request a mental evaluation for his client once the case is assigned to a judge at Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. He is aware that the case will be presented to a grand jury Thursday and that prosecutors want the death penalty.
Carol Crawford, 46, her daughter Jennifer R. Crawford, 23, and Jennifer’s four children, Ranaisha, 8, Jeannine, 5, Aleisha, 3, and Brandon, 2, all perished in upstairs bedrooms at their Stewart Avenue home. An accelerant on the porch was ignited sometime after 5 a.m. Jan. 23.
“Michael confessed [to detectives] so that they would not arrest everyone at the house,” his mother, Ann Davis, told The Vindicator on Tuesday. “I know he wouldn’t hurt those kids, he has a sister of his own. He used to play football with Brandon and chase the girls around the yard.”
The Davis family house on Bennington is just around the corner from where the Crawfords lived on Stewart.
Yavorcik said he couldn’t comment on whether his client confessed to protect his family. “If it occurred, it’s an issue I’ll have to address,” he said.
Ann Davis, when asked about Michael’s reading ability, described him as a slow learner who has difficulty reading. She said she also has documents to show that he suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
She said her younger sons, Scott, 16, and James, 17, gave DNA samples (mouth swabs) at the police department crime lab this week because urine was found in the backyard of the fire scene. The DNA tests, she said, were taken to rule them out as suspects in the arson.
She said a 15-year-old boy who stayed overnight at her home set the fire and Michael “went to stop the fire.” She said she learned from detectives that lighter fluid was used.
Within two hours of the fire, Michael Davis, his brothers and another boy were questioned by detectives. Only Michael was arrested and his clothes seized.
“I admit my kids ain’t perfect — teenagers get into trouble,” Ann Davis said. “They’re not bullies, they only fight people who fight with them.”
She said that, as a juvenile, her son Michael “was just stealing cars — that’s it.” Michael Davis became an adult Dec. 15, 2007, roughly a month before the deadly arson.
Ann Davis said her family is no longer staying at the house on Bennington and has moved out of town. She said there had been threats to blow up her home since the fire. Police were assigned to keep an eye on the place.
Yavorcik said he intends to try and reach his client’s mother this week to talk about the case, adding that Michael wants money for his commissary account at the jail. Inmates use the account to buy snacks.
Ann Davis said she intends to visit her son at the jail today and will give him more money for the account. She said she wants to hire a lawyer from Cleveland and not have one who is appointed. Yavorcik said she has every right to retain counsel.
A source has said that a dispute over a stolen cell phone served as motive for the arson. An AT&T cell phone was logged in as evidence at the police department Monday.
Fire Capt. Alvin Ware, meanwhile, said the age of the Crawford house on Stewart had nothing to do with the fire spreading so fast. He said the accelerant used caused the flames to engulf the house within minutes.
Records show the five-room 13⁄4-story yellow wood frame house was built in 1925.
Ware, head of the arson bureau, said old houses may experience electrical problems that could possibly cause a fire. The house on Stewart had been in good shape overall, he said.
Constructionwise, some older houses, even hundreds of years old, are better than new ones if well maintained, Ware said. The houses that do burn fast, he said, are vacant, wide-open structures with open doors and windows that allow the flames to spread quickly.