BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The teen accused of helping to set the fatal factory fire that burned for three days in Lockport, is also accused of leaving behind Joseph Phillips.
Prosecutors said the teen knew Phillips would die and he told no one. That’s why he’s charged with criminally negligent homicide.
But because of his age at the time of the crime — 13 — and the severity of the charges, it’s likely he’ll spend several months in a detention facility, rather than several years.
The mother of the14-year-old Phillips told News 4 months ago her son left a message for the teen who was charged with the crime, pleading for help — and that the teen did nothing to help Phillips.
That was confirmed Tuesday in family court.
The teen denied his involvement during a family court appearance on Tuesday, according to family court prosecutor John Sansone. Sansone said a denial in family court is the equivalent of a not guilty plea in adult court.
In addition to criminally negligent homicide, the teen is charged with multiple counts of arson and criminal mischief, as well as burglary and criminal trespass, Sansone said.
Sansone said the burglary charge accuses the teen — and Phillips — of using a ladder to break into an HTI building that stored recycled tires. The ladder was on site.
It’s not known how the teen escaped and Phillips did not. Sansone declined to answer the question because it’s considered evidence.
Prosecutors say they entered the building with the intention of starting a fire and getting out.
It has also been confirmed that the accused teen received a voice message from Phillips, who was inside the building when the fire broke out, but the court says the teen never told an adult or members of law enforcement. Phillips’ mother, Ann, said in August her son left a message on the teen’s voicemail, telling him he couldn’t get out and to tell his family he loved them.
Sansone handed over to the teen’s attorney on Tuesday a DVD containing two items. It’s believed those include the voicemail left by Phillips, and a police interview with the teen during their investigation.
County attorney Claude Jeorg said the teen made incriminating statements to police in those interviews.
Because he is a juvenile, and the charges he faces, it’s likely he’ll spend months in a detention center, rather than years, Sansone said. For example, some of the felonies he faces carry an 18-month stay in a detention center; the misdemeanors, 12-month stay. The detention center could hold the teen for longer.
Sansone said attorneys on both sides of the case are hoping for a plea agreement — called an admission — rather than send the case to trial, or what’s known in family court as fact finding.