Hollywood arson case: Dramatic courtroom outburst by suspect's incarcerated mother


"Where is my son?" said Dorothee Burkhart Thursday on the witness stand. She had not seen her son for more than a year. It took her several minutes before she realized he was sitting right in front of her.

"Oh my god, what did you do to my son?" Dorothee said.

Harry Burkhart is accused of setting more than 40 fires in December 2011. His trial is still weeks away, but Thursday his defense attorney was hoping to have Burkhart's mother testify on Harry's behalf before she is deported to Germany, where she faces several fraud charges.

"I came today only to see my son, that he is alive," said Dorothee on the stand. "I couldn't recognize my own son."

Dorothee Burkhart's testimony was to be videotaped and presented in court later. It's called a conditional examination. But the 53-year-old woman simply refused to cooperate.

"No, I am talking now," said a defiant Dorothee.

Public defender Gustavo Sztraicher says he needed Dorothee to testify about her son's mental health.

"She is in a unique position to shed light on his history, on his development, on his lifelong history of mental illness," said Sztraicher.

Harry Burkhart has pleaded not guilty to setting 49 fires, mainly to parked cars and carports in Hollywood, West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley leading up to and over New Year's weekend in 2011.

No one was seriously injured, but the fires caused more than $3 million in damage. Prosecutors say Harry set the fires in a fit of rage after his mother had been arrested pending her deportation to Germany.

"This is the first time that the district attorney has gotten the benefit of seeing the type of person that raised Harry Burkhart, who is developmentally, psychologically, mentally disabled," said Sztraicher.

After several attempts to have Dorothee sworn in, Judge George Lomeli finally terminated the proceedings. Harry was sent back to county jail. Dorothee was taken back into federal custody. Her deportation could happen any day.

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