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Hollywood arson suspect's mom returns to court

January 25, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The mother of Hollywood arson suspect Harry Burkhart is fighting extradition to Germany. Dorothee Burkhart returned to court Wednesday. In previous appearances, she has made strange outbursts.

View an interactive map of the locations of the arson fires.

Dorothee Burkhart was in federal detention and is now mounting a legal battle to see her son, Harry Burkhart. It is unclear how much Dorothee knows about his case.

Harry Burkhart, 24, was arrested on suspicion of arson on January 2. He was allegedly so enraged over her incarceration that he carried out a crime spree according to arson investigators, setting 49 fires in carports and occupied apartment buildings.

Harry was in bright yellow jail garb designating him as a potential mental case when he appeared in Superior Court Tuesday. He pleaded not guilty to 100 felony counts. His bail is set at $7.5 million. His attorney, public defender Gustavo Sztraicher, says he will be gathering medical records from Germany and considering a possible insanity defense.

Asked about a meeting between mother and son, Sztraicher said, "It's too early in the case to comment on that."

Freedom is also a long shot for Dorothee, according to the federal prosecutor. She's a fugitive from Germany where she was charged with 19 counts of fraud, and escaped custody. In past hearings Dorothee had been vocal while fighting the extradition, demanding to be with a son she called "weak-minded," and expressing fear they would be tortured if returned to Germany.

"I am a poor woman with a mental[ly] ill son," said Dorothee on January 2. "More than 10 years persecuted by fascists, by Nazi organizations."

There were no outbursts Wednesday. But the judge made it clear that the court has little leeway in extradition cases. If German authorities present probable cause of her crimes, she must go back. Her son's situation may not matter.

"It's not a full trial," said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. "And any other factors that a person may want to bring in, for instance their medical condition or whatever, is to my knowledge not something that a federal judge would consider in determining whether or not someone should be extradited."

Bailing out is not likely either. The federal prosecutor says not only is Dorothee a flight risk, but her alleged crimes in Germany present an unacceptable risk to the community.

Dorothee's attorney will return to court for a bail hearing to argue for her release set for February 7.

See photos of the fire damage in Hollywood and North Hollywood.