MARQUETTE - The Canadian man accused of attempting to abduct a 12-year-old girl from a Munising street last year will be back in an Alger County courtroom today, following a state appeals court decision to remand the case.
Mohamed El Fechtali, 41, of Pierrefonds, Quebec was first arrested on Nov. 9, 2011, and accused of attempted kidnapping and enticing a child for immoral purposes, five-year and four-year felonies, respectively.
In January, Alger County Circuit Court Judge William Carmody tossed Fechtali's alleged confession, claiming the defendant was held in de facto police custody for hours without having his Miranda rights read to him.
"He was entitled to be advised of his constitutional rights, and the Court finds the record devoid of any substantive argument to the contrary," Carmody wrote in a decision that was overturned in October. "Therefore, any and all prejudicial statements or claimed confessions made by the Defendant ... must be suppressed."
On the day in question last November, Fechtali, returning home from Saskatchewan after a job-hunting trip, allegedly stopped to talk to the girl, who was walking home along M-28 in Munising.
The girl, who identified Fechtali in court, testified that he asked if she knew where Canada was. She said he then told her his name and asked her to be friends and to get in the car. She testified that when she refused, the driver said "OK OK OK, I'm not going to kidnap you."
She ran home and relayed the event to her stepfather, who called police. Fechtali was pulled over shortly thereafter near Seney.
Police transported Fechtali to Munising, where he was questioned for more than three hours before allegedly confessing and being arrested.
In October, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed Carmody's initial ruling, stating that Fechtali had little reason to believe he was being forced to remain in police custody. "Ultimately, the troopers' repeated statements that defendant was free to leave and not under arrest, defendant's presence in an area of the police station generally open to the public and in a room that did not lock, defendant's freedom of movement at all times, and his ability to use his cell phone at any time, all belie the trial court's conclusion that defendant was in custody."
The decision, signed by all three appeals court judges and dated Oct. 25, states that the three-and-a-half-hour police interview did not indicate that Fechtali was in custody. Though Carmody had referred to the question period as "repeated and prolonged" and "confusing," the appeals court ruling stated "lengthy interviews do not necessarily render a person in custody."
The case against Fechtali will continue with a hearing today, where Carmody will determine if the suspect's alleged confession can be considered voluntary.
"Although both parties address the voluntariness of defendant's statements, the trial court has not explicitly decided this issue and we decline to make such a determination in the first instance," the appeals court decision reads. "Instead, on remand we direct the trial court to consider whether defendant's statements were voluntary in light of the above holdings."
Munising Police Chief John Nelson, who questioned the suspect at the station on the day of his arrest, testified last year that Fechtali initially denied speaking with the alleged victim, but later admitted he had talked with her and offered her a ride in a friendly way. Eventually, Nelson said, Fechtali claimed he thought the girl was between 22 and 24 years old and was hoping for a consensual sexual encounter.