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Lawyers seek to toss evidence against accused Raymond arsonist

Union Leader Correspondent

January 06. 2017 11:03PM
Gregory Bruno, 28, of Raymond enters court on Friday. (JAMES A. KIMBLE/Union Leader Correspondent)

BRENTWOOD — Firefighters were dousing a burned out pickup truck in the driveway of accused arsonist Gregory Bruno last January when they heard him ask a question that raised their suspicions about him, according to court testimony.

“He was looking down and reading something off his phone — he said he got a text about a house fire and asked if we were going to it,” Jonathan Hines, a Derry firefighter, testified in court on Friday.

Hines, then a Raymond firefighter, had not yet been “toned out” for the house fire underway at 103 Green Road in Raymond.

Defense lawyers for Bruno, 28, were in court on Friday asking a judge to throw out evidence culled from Bruno’s cellphone and Raymond home.

The evidence led to Bruno’s arrest last May on more than 26 charges related to arsons in Raymond, Epping and Stratham.

The first fire that brought investigators to Bruno’s door was when his father’s own pickup truck was set ablaze shortly before midnight last Jan. 12. The next morning, the home of Bruno’s ex-girlfriend was set ablaze about a mile away. Witnesses saw a white truck matching the description of one belonging to Bruno near the scene before the fire was spotted by police.

Hines testified that he wondered at the time how Bruno could know about a fire that his department had not yet been notified about.

“He made eye contact with me,” Hines testified, recalling his brief exchange. “My next question was (going to be) ‘Can I see your cellphone?’” Instead, according Hines, his department-issued pager went off notifying him about the fire.

Bruno’s ex-girlfriend had already complained to Raymond police months earlier about getting anonymous text messages that were sometimes threatening in nature.

“I don’t think they all were (threatening) but a good portion of them were,” Raymond police Sgt. Scott Payne testified. He said that numerous family members of Bruno’s ex-girlfriend were receiving anonymous texts.

Defense lawyers questioned whether Raymond police were within their right to take Bruno’s cellphone from him after his exchange with firefighters.

Assistant County Attorney Jennifer Haggar argued that police had to seize Bruno’s phone instead of obtaining a search warrant first because evidence could have been destroyed.

“The vast majority of cellphone carriers will keep certain information, but not the content of messages,” Haggar said.

Public Defender Tara Witt argued that Raymond police should have also obtained a search warrant before walking to a side door of Bruno’s residence, where they took foot impressions in the snow. Police believe those footprints also match ones at the first fire.

Bruno, who has pleaded not guilty, is being held without bail and heads to trial in March. He is accused of also setting fire to a Raymond self storage unit, an Epping home and a car parked outside of a Stratham gym. The fires happened between Jan. 12 and last April 24. He also faces charges of feeding a razor blade to a family dog. Since being jailed last year, Bruno has been indicted on additional charges for allegedly stealing a correctional officer’s phone to make a bogus 911 call. He has also been indicted for allegedly soliciting three fellow inmates to set fires in Raymond once they are released from jail.

Judge Andrew Schulman took the arguments under advisement. He is also weighing whether Bruno’s rights were violated when he was questioned by Department of Corrections Lt. Shawn Eldridge.

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