Sunday, December 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Firefighter who discussed fires pleads innocent

BELLINGHAM — A volunteer firefighter who previously acknowledged setting fires in Bellingham pleaded innocent to second-degree arson charges Friday, and his attorney says he will seek to throw out the confessions due to the man's "mild mental issues."

Ira John English, 28, was arrested Dec. 16 and ordered held on $1 million bond for investigation. He served as a volunteer firefighter until the day of his arrest.

His attorney, Jeffrey A. Lustick, said he will seek a bond reduction next week.

He said English suffers from attention deficit disorder and has been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder since his return from recent service in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast area.

English's defense will be that he suffers from mental disorder that makes him susceptible to confessing crimes he did not commit, Lustick said.

"First, an FBI agent present during questioning threatened to prosecute Ira as a terrorist if he did not cooperate with the investigations," Lustick said. "Next, the investigator blatantly suggested to Ira how he should answer incriminating questions which were posed to him."

Detectives said 20 fires were set in the past three years, most with road flares that were left at the scene. The fires burned roadside grass, cars, vacant houses and storage buildings. No one was injured.

English acknowledged setting 11 of the fires, investigators said.

He also was involved in putting out all or most of the fires. Fire Chief Neil Good said he was one of the district's most active firefighters.

Lustick said he is still going through details of the 20 fires, determining which ones his client is accused of setting. Friends and relatives are expected to testify that they were with English immediately before some of the fires, he said.

In one case, English may have been in Louisiana doing relief work, Lustick said.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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