fire that destroyed an apartment building and caused the evacuation of all of its tenants, some by jumping from balconies, is being blamed on a combative couple who lived there, according to Clinton Township Fire Marshal Stephen Conroy.Anthony Jerome Mitchell, 28, and his wife, Aimee Michaels, 45, were bound over by 41B District Judge Linda Davis to face arson charges.
Michaels previously was charged with accessory after the fact, but the charge was amended to arson at the request of Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Emil Sameen.
Conroy testified Wednesday that an arson dog, provided by the Roseville Fire Department, detected suspected accelerants inside the couple’s apartment after they argued. RELATED ASSETSAttorneys Timothy Kohler, representing Mitchell, and Benjamin Schock, Michaels’ attorney, argued before Davis that the prosecution did not prove their clients started the fire in their apartment. They said evidence sent by Conroy to the Michigan State Police Crime Laboratory didn’t prove an accellerant was used to start the fire in several spots on the first floor of the apartment complex.
Conroy said accelerants were found in the hallway and the front door of the apartment on the second floor of the building near Harper Avenue and Metropolitan Parkway by Wendy, an accellerant dog. Conroy said investigators found two cans of barbecue lighter fuel in a garbage bag, which they believe was used to start the fire.
“The dog’s sign is to sit when she smells an accellerant,” Conroy said. “The dog sat on two or three points outside of the apartment and three to four more times inside the apartment.”
Conroy said he sent six samples of carpet to the crime lab to be examined for an accellerant such as charcoal lighter fluid.
“I have no doubt there was an accellerant used,” Conroy said. He added he has no idea whether the charcoal lighter containers firefighters found in the apartment were used to start the fire.
Kathy Chuchran, manager of the apartments, testified she received numerous noise complaints about Michaels, whose name is listed on the unit lease, and Mitchell. She said Michaels knew she was being evicted due to non-payment of rent, excessive noise and constant fighting.
Chuchran said the eviction order was given to Michaels on April 5 and the tenant has 30 days to vacate the premises. Police believe the fire was set in retaliation for the eviction order.
Clinton Township police Officer Christian Madajczyk was one of the first officers to arrive at the apartment complex in response to a noise complaint. He said he didn’t see anyone arguing or fighting but noticed black smoke coming out of Building J, where Michaels and Mitchell lived. He said the police immediately notified the fire department of the blaze and spent an hour rescuing many people by knocking on the doorwalls and getting a ladder to remove people from the second story.
Neighbor Jose Villenueva testified he often called police about arguing and fighting from the Michaels apartment. He said the morning of the fire he called police about loud noises and yelling coming from the apartment and then outside.
Villenueva said he couldn’t see who was leaving but could tell it was a man and woman. He said he saw smoke 40 minutes later and couldn’t leave his apartment from the front door because of the smoke and instead went to the balcony.
“We have a motive, opportunity and cause,” assistant prosecutor Sameen said. “One of them did it. Both of them did it.”
Koehler said the prosecutor picked on Mitchell and Michaels because he doesn’t have any other suspects. He said somehow the prosecution has concluded there is an arson even though it hasn’t been proven.
In his closing arguments, Schock said his client ran out of the apartment only covered with a blanket. He said there is no indication that a fight led to the fire.
The judge disagreed. She said Mitchell left the area while the apartment complex was burning and neither had any burn marks on their bodies. Davis also said she was involved in a similar fire in Detroit several years ago where charcoal lighter fluid was used.
Clinton Township Detective Jim Hall said Mitchell and Michaels were at Johnny G’s, a bar in Mount Clemens, earlier in the evening. They left and went to Mitchell’s niece’s house where Mitchell was flirting with another girl who he was secretly dating, Hall said.
They got into an argument and Mitchell left. Michaels called Mitchell and he came home at 4:30 a.m. They got into an argument when Mitchell was ready to go to bed. They later took their argument outside the apartment house.
Hall said the couple had lived in the apartment complex for the past four months.
“The daily routing was to go to the bar, come home and fight,” Hall said.
*Macomb Daily Article.