Los Angeles arsonist Harry Burkhart's mental history divulged during trial

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The mental health history of a serial arsonist was lengthy and prosecutors argued he knew what he was doing, while his defense believes he is insane. (KABC)

The mental health history of a serial arsonist was lengthy and prosecutors argued he knew what he was doing, while his defense believes he is insane.

During the discussion of Harry Burkhart's mental health history, it was revealed his first hospitalization was at age 10.

"Overall it paints the picture of a severely mentally ill and developmentally disabled person," public defender Steve Schoenfield said. "But most significantly, Harry was in a psychiatric hospital just four months before the arsons."

The Chechnyan-born defendant's four-day spree of lighting up parked cars in carports was the result of a perfect storm of difficulties, his public defender said.

It was complicated by what one expert called "his total dependence on a toxic mother." Dorothee Burkhart was also mentally ill.

The prosecution countered that despite Burkhart's mental capacity, he knew what he was doing. The vents set off when police came for his mother, who was wanted for fraud in Germany.

"Guns were drawn. It was a scary situation. He was upset. It pissed him off that his mom got arrested," prosecutor Joy Roberts said. "Revenge is what the defendant wanted, and it's what he got."

Prosecutors believe Burkhart was angry at the United States. The prosecution went on to say that the way Burkhart set nearly 50 fires in and around Hollywood six years ago shows calculation and premeditation.

They believe he methodically bought fire-starting materials and chose his targets, that he was aware he was doing something wrong because of the care he took to avoid getting caught.

This is the second sanity trial for Burkhart. The first one ended in a deadlock.

What the jury decides will impact Burkhart's sentence - either decades in a state mental hospital or as many as 80 years in prison.

Related Topics:
trialarsoncourt casefraudarrestmental healthHollywoodDowntown LALos Angeles CountyLos Angeles
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