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Children in 911 call case get lawyers

Amid prosecutors' efforts Thursday to get voice samples from Juan Merced's older children in the probe of fake 911 calls, one judge appointed legal counsel for the children and another ordered a city inspection of the family's 15th Street home.

City Judge James A.W. McLeod directed the Erie County district attorney's office to "do absolutely nothing" in its criminal investigation until newly appointed lawyers for Daniel Merced, 16, and Anna Merced, 15, can talk to them next week.

Later Thursday, City Housing Judge Henry J. Nowak ordered a March 30 inspection of the Merced home at the corner of 15th and Connecticut Avenue by city fire marshals and building inspectors. The order follows allegations of carbon monoxide fumes in the structure. The family has been living in a charity facility in the Main and High street area after being ordered to vacate the house.

Ayoka A. Tucker, the Merceds' chief attorney, insisted county Child Protective Services workers have found the Merced home "a habitable place for children to stay." Nowak scheduled an April 6 hearing.

The Housing Court judge told Tucker she may have to begin State Supreme Court action to force National Fuel to restore gas service, which was shut off two weeks ago on orders of the city fire marshal due to allegations of carbon monoxide.

In McLeod's courtroom, Michael McCabe, chief of the Erie County district attorney's Arson Bureau and chief prosecutor in the case, said the two oldest children, and possibly a third, must be tested due to continuing fake calls.

After the two court proceedings Thursday, Tucker said prosecutors have yet to schedule voice testing of Juan Merced, who agreed to the testing last week.

Tucker also questioned the last-minute bid by prosecutors for voice testing of the children, contending prosecutors may be improperly seeking to obtain from the children evidence incriminating their father.

McLeod appointed attorney Horace Hutson, a former prosecutor, to represent Daniel Merced in the expanding investigation of more than 1,000 fake 911 calls linked to the family this year. He said an attorney will be appointed for Anna Merced prior to further court proceedings April 3.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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