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False confession expert sought in arson perjury

False confession expert sought in arson perjury

Defendant allegedly lied to grand jury
False confession expert sought in arson perjury
The scene the day after the May 2, 2013 arson fire on Hulett Street in Schenectady.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

The last man facing charges of lying to a federal grand jury investigating a deadly Hulett Street arson fire is seeking the help of experts in false confessions.

The attorney for Bryan Fish filed paperwork this week seeking a delay in Fish's trial so the defense could further explore whether an expert could explain Fish's testimony to a jury. The judge handling the case granted the delay.

The defense contacted Saul Kassin, a pioneer in the study of false confessions, attorney Frederick Rench wrote. Rench is hoping to get Kassin involved, or someone Kassin recommends. 

Federal prosecutors didn't oppose the delay.

Fish is accused of lying to the grand jury investigating the May 2, 2013 arson the claimed the lives of David Terry, his children Layah, 3; Michael, 2; and Donavan Duell, 11 months old and maimed then-5-year-old Safyre Terry.

Fish's account supported a now discredited account that led to Robert Butler, then 27, being charged with setting the fire. Butler spent nine months in custody before prosecutors dropped the charges and freed him as another suspect emerged.

No one is now charged with setting the blaze, but Fish and three others were charged with lying to the grand jury.

Fish is accused of lying when he testified that his brother drove Butler and others to Schenectady from Saratoga Springs that morning. Rench contends that account was the result of police pressure during Fish's initial interrogation by police.

The two others charged with lying in the Butler account also claimed they were pressured to lie, but ultimately pleaded guilty to perjury. The second defendant pleaded guilty last week. Rench said Fish's case is different in that he never contradicted his testimony in front of the grand jury, while the other two had.

Rench argued that Fish is learning delayed, never graduated from high school and ultimately tried to help police.

"The open question is whether the misinformation provided to Mr. Fish by law enforcement and the method of interrogation by law enforcement induced Mr. Fish to falsely confess to participating in a crime in which he did not participate," Rench wrote.

Rench said he couldn't explore those areas in recent weeks because he's had a busy trial schedule. 

Fish's trial had been set for next month, but Judge Gary L. Sharpe granted the delay. No new date has been set, but Sharpe wrote that the new date would be firm. Fish remains in custody.

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