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State: Sander confession shouldn't be suppressed

The state is fighting back against attempts to suppress a confession Thomas Sander made admitting he started the Trinity High School fire in March.

While Sander’s defense said detectives Terry Oestreich and Kylan Klauzer coerced Sander into confessing and did not read him his Miranda rights — therefore nullifying his confession — Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning responded in a brief Friday that includes excerpts showing Oestreich explaining Sander’s rights to him.

In the first interview conducted March 4, Oestreich does tell Sander he is not under arrest, and that he “can go anytime” he wants.

“And you don’t have to talk to me, but you need to know that anything you say we’d use in our investigation,” Oestreich said according to the brief. “You know … I just need to let you know that.”

Henning wrote in his brief that this excerpt debunks the defense’s allegation that neither detective attempted to recited Miranda warnings to Sander. Both sides encouraged the judge to watch the full interrogation videos.

Later in that interview, Sander admitted to starting the fire, according to Henning’s brief.

Trinity High School was set ablaze March 3, leading to the displacement of hundreds of students for the rest of the school year. Sander, who at the time was the school’s principal, is the main suspect.

At the beginning of his second interrogation of Sander on March 5, Oestreich advised him of his Miranda rights to remain silent, that what he said can be used against him and that he has the right to an attorney, according to Henning’s brief.

At one point in that interrogation, Sander tried to take back his confession, according to the brief.

“I contend that I did not start that fire. I did not write that note. Listen. Listen. … If I try to cooperate with you, OK, my sentence could be less.”

But later, Sander told Oestreich details about how the fire was started.

Oestreich asked Sander: “When you told me that you just held the match, was there any accelerant used or just the match?”

“Just a match,” Sander replied.

The two also later discuss where Sander got the pen he used to write a note left at the scene.

The defense made the move to suppress the testimony, including a confession, last month.

Attorneys Lloyd Suhr and Jackson Lofgren wrote in that brief that Oestreich and Klauzer violated Sander’s Fifth Amendment and Miranda rights by not Mirandizing him. They also said he was pressured to stay and confess. In one instance, Sander attempted to leave, but Klauzer allegedly blocked the door off camera.

If the defense attorneys are successful and the confession is barred from being used at trial, set to begin July 23, the state will lose a pivotal piece of its argument.

In its brief, the defense includes sections of the interrogation that show Oestreich or Klauzer allegedly coercing Sander into confession.

“During the interrogation, Klauzer and Oestreich’s attitude towards Sander quickly dissolved from cordial to accusatory, confrontational, and at times deceptive,” with Sander repeatedly being told “it was a waste of time for him to deny starting the fire,” the defense wrote in their brief.

Southwest Judicial District Judge William Herauf is expected to decide whether to suppress the confession on July 1.