Wednesday, April 21, 2004

OSU arson probe getting contentious

Prosecutor's investigator hindering police work, Columbus officer says

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A police homicide sergeant claimed in a recent memo that a prosecutor's investigator is interfering with police work on an arson that killed five college students, including two from Greater Cincinnati, last year.

Sgt. Wallace Rushin said in the memo that the investigator working for Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien has badgered witnesses and subjected them to extraordinary lie-detector tests.

Investigator Ron Price also has conducted scientific fire tests against the advice of experts and kept evidence secret, Rushin said.

Price and police are conducting parallel investigations on the rooming house fire near Ohio State University last April. Five students - three women from Ohio University and two men from Ohio State - died hours after a 21st-birthday party held at the house.

Andrea Dennis, 20, of Madeira, and Kyle Raulin, 20, of West Chester, were among the victims.

Police arrested Robert Lucky Patterson on aggravated murder and aggravated arson charges Aug. 1. He was released 10 days later, after O'Brien said investigators needed more time to pursue leads and build evidence.

"The prosecutor's office has so diluted this case that prosecution of the suspect would almost be impossible at this point," Rushin wrote in the April 7 memo.

The document was addressed to police chief James G. Jackson, and has been dismissed by top brass at the Columbus Division of Police.

Cmdr. Bill Mattei, Rushin's boss, refuted the allegations of the 21/2-page memo after it was made public Monday.

"Sgt. Rushin's comments do not represent the position of the Division of Police," he said.

"Mr. O'Brien knows what he's doing."

Jackson apparently has not seen the memo, according to a routing sheet that documents who read the memo, the Columbus Dispatch reported in Tuesday's editions.

Jackson could not be reached for comment.

After Patterson was released, O'Brien tapped Price, a retired police officer who worked for him, to review evidence.

"We've been trying to cooperate the best we can," Price told WBNS-TV Monday night. "And I'll continue to do that."

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