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IE Old Fire trial begins for arson suspect

July 9, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Opening statements began Monday in the trial of suspected arsonist Ricky Lee Fowler, accused of setting the massive Old Fire in 2003.

The trial is being held in a San Bernardino courthouse. In addition to arson, Fowler has been charged with five counts of murder. Prosecutors said there were five fatal heart attacks that were a result of the Old Fire.

During his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Robert Bulloch presented a signed affidavit from a statement Fowler apparently gave saying, "It was my intent to light it, but I got beat to the punch by a friend of mine that was already there."

At the time of the fire, witnesses reported seeing a passenger in a white van toss burning objects into dry brush. Investigators got a tip and interviewed Fowler over the phone, but did not have enough evidence to charge him at the time.

Then in 2009, just days before the six-year limitations statute for arson was about to expire, Fowler was indicted. In a jailhouse interview, he denied starting the fire.

The prosecution claims that Fowler was seen starting the fire with a flare, apparently as revenge against someone who lived in the area. But during the defense's opening statement, the attorney tried to point out inconsistencies in the description of the suspect and the suspect vehicle.

The massive wildfire destroyed 983 homes, damaged 1,300 others and blackened 91,000 acres in the foothill and mountain communities. Property damage was in the millions of dollars.

If convicted, prosecutors indicated they will seek the death penalty for Fowler.

Fowler is currently serving 25 years to life for sodomizing three inmates stemming from when he was incarcerated for burglary.


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