SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — A prosecutor said Monday a man who was angry about being thrown out of a house where his family was staying was guilty of murdering five people who had heart attacks after he deliberately torched a hillside and started a raging wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes in Southern California.
Supervising Deputy District Attorney Robert Bulloch flashed picture after picture of burning forests and firefighters as he delivered his opening statement at the trial of Rickie Lee Fowler.
"This fire was deliberately set," Bulloch said. "It was set maliciously by this defendant, Rickie Fowler. He did it because he was angry. He did it because he was selfish. He did it because he wanted revenge."
Fowler has pleaded not guilty to arson and five counts of murder. He could face the death penalty if convicted after the trial that's expected to last a month.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Don Jordan raised questions about whether the Old Fire or another wildfire raging in the mountainous area east of Los Angeles caused the stress that led to the heart attacks.
In his opening statement, Jordan said his client never told investigators he was the one who ignited the wildfire.
"Mr. Fowler never, ever, ever, ever even hinted at, never ever said he lit the fire," the attorney told jurors.
The suspected driver of the van, Martin Valdez Jr., was later shot and killed in an unrelated incident in the town of Muscoy.
While in prison awaiting trial, Fowler was convicted of sodomizing a jail inmate and sentenced to three, 25-years-to-life prison terms.
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