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07-09-2012, 09:51 PM #1
Trial under way in deadly 2003 Calif. wildfire SENTENCED to Death
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.
More at link.....
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07-11-2012, 10:03 PM #2
Family friend testifies on arson suspect's words, behavior in 2003 Old Fire trial
SAN BERNARDINO - A longtime family friend of the man accused of starting the Old Fire testified Wednesday that the suspected arsonist made statements linking him to the deadly blaze on more than one occasion.
Michelle Hernandez, who has known Rickie Lee Fowler for most of his life, spent the majority of the day talking about a conversation the two of them had after the 2003 fire had already started burning the hillside near Old Waterman Canyon.
According to police transcripts, Fowler yelled and screamed, "That's why I started these fires. See what you made me do? That's why I burned John's house down" - apparently referring to being previously kicked out of two different households. ..............
The prosecution is expected to continue questioning Fowler's friends and family members today , including the man whose home was the suspected target of the fire. ............
07-17-2012, 07:57 PM #3
Update on articles....
Coroner: Stress from fire, not pre-existing medical conditions, caused deaths of Old Fire victims
SAN BERNARDINO - The county's chief medical examiner, Dr. Frank Sheridan, testified Monday that the deaths of the five victims of the 2003 Old Fire were caused by stress from the fire - and it was his opinion that they otherwise would not have died when they did.
Sheridan testified in San Bernardino Superior Court about the health history and cause of death of each victim - Charles Cunningham, James McDermith, Chad Williams, Robert Taylor and Ralph McWilliams.
They had pre-existing health conditions prior to the fire, but Sheridan believes the fire contributed to the men's deaths.
Witness testifies Fowler was using drugs and was very angry
The alleged target of the 2003 Old Fire, Upper Waterman Canyon resident John Aylward, testified Thursday that suspected arsonist Rickie Lee Fowler had stayed at his home shortly before the fire, but Aylward had asked Fowler to leave.
"At that point in time, Rickie was using a lot of drugs... he was a very angry person at the time," Aylward testified today during Fowler's trial in San Bernardino Superior Court.
Great aunt testifies about her recorded talks with Old Fire suspect
In a pair of recorded jailhouse conversations with his great aunt, suspected Old Fire arsonist Rickie Lee Fowler denied starting the 2003 Old Fire, but he admitted playing games with law enforcement -- to a point, according to trial testimony today.
Elizabeth Rehkop, Fowler's great aunt, testified today during his trial in San Bernardino Superior Court that, after Fowler was arrested, she called police and told them she thought he was involved in the wildfire.
At one point in the conversation, Fowler told Rehkop that he didn't want to incriminate himself any more than he already had, and Rehkop testified that statement made her think that Fowler had more to say.
More at links....
07-24-2012, 10:25 PM #4
Prosecution in the Old Fire trial rests
SAN BERNARDINO - Jurors in the trial of suspected Old Fire arsonist Rickie Lee Fowler were taken Wednesday morning to key scenes in the case.
Prosecution and defense attorneys, as well as sheriff's deputies, joined the jury for the bus ride to the site near Waterman Canyon where the 2003 fire started. ...........
In the recorded conversations Fowler tells the special agents that a friend, Martin Valdez Jr., threw a flare into brush on the side of the mountain, starting the fire. Fowler continued to say he didn't start it.
Detective testifies about efforts to find those involved in Old Fire ignition
SAN BERNARDINO - From the start the Old Fire was investigated as arson, officials said Monday. .............
Then, in January 2004, someone contacted the sheriff's department with information that put Rickie Lee Fowler - the suspected arsonist - on their radar..............
Defense attorney Donald Jordan started his case Monday, calling to the witness stand several people who were loosely connected to Fowler and the incidents surrounding the fire.
Five witnesses testified about background details like the suspect vehicle and day-of-the-fire schedules.............
07-30-2012, 07:16 PM #5
Suspected Old Fire arsonist denies involvement during polygraph test
SAN BERNARDINO -- Months after the 2003 Old Fire raged through San Bernardino Mountain communities, the suspected arsonist firmly denied any involvement with the blaze........
But in February 2004, he told law enforcement officers and a polygrapher that he was not the firestarter. .......
After failing polygraph, Fowler admits being present at start of 2003 Old Fire
.........Fowler was strapped to the polygraph in February 2004 and asked a series of questions. When it was over, Fowler was told he failed the exam - specifically the part where the defendant said he was not present at the time the fire was started.
"On the questions - were you present when the fire was started? - When you said `no,' that's not true. That's the part you failed, " said Robert Heard, the polygrapher, in a recording.
"I wasn't there," Fowler responded. ..............
Fowler continued to deny being there.
"I know you were there. You know you were there," Heard said, adding that law enforcement had an eyewitness placing Fowler at the Old Fire.........
He eventually told Heard he was sitting up in the van, talking on a cell phone, when the fire started. Fowler also told the polygrapher two other people were in the van.
But he refused to say who started the fire or how it was started because that would incriminate him........
UPDATE: Law professor testifies at Old Fire trial about false confessions
........Professor Richard Leo of the University of San Francisco School of Law said some people who confess are not guilty but that number is relatively low.
"We do not know what percentage of confessions are false," Leo testified.
He said that especially on highly publicized cases, people sometimes falsely take credit.
"Some people just want to be known as the baddest person of all?" Defense Attorney Don Jordan asked.
"Correct," Leo said. ............
Fowler insisted he did not start the fire.
In 2008 Fowler told U.S. Forest Service special agents he was on the side of Waterman Canyon, holding a road flare in his hand - with intentions to start a fire - when a friend took it from him, lit it and threw it onto the mountainside.
08-07-2012, 01:27 PM #6
2004 Fowler interview with law enforcement wraps Tuesday testimony
.......Over the past few days Don Jordan, who represents Fowler, had been playing audio recordings from February 2004, where the defendant was brought in to talk to authorities about the deadly fire........
"In the beginning of the two-day interview, he told me he knew nothing about the fire," Palomino testified on Tuesday. "I took that at face value. But an hour later, it comes to light - Fowler said he was there."
Palomino said that started a gradual progression of bits of truth, which came out in two days of interviews.
"I had to try and decipher what was the truth and what wasn't the truth," he said.
"Mr. Fowler is very street smart, he's very manipulative and his statements were given for a self-serving reason," Palomino said. .........
Fowler later admitted to being present when the fire was set.
"Why did the fire start?" Palomino asked him.
"Accidental, probably, it was accidental," Fowler said. "It was started, but it wasn't meant to start the way it started. OK, it was lit with intent but not intent to burn a mountain down. It wasn't lit to go ahead and burn (stuff) down."
Jordan said that was the last interview with Fowler for two years. A sheriff's interview from 2006 is expected to be heard in court Wednesday.
Former detective used lying techniques in hopes of garnering confession
.......Sgt. David Burgess, who testified Wednesday, was a detective at the time of the 2006 interview. He and sheriff's Sgt. Frank Bell questioned Fowler for a final time before the case was turned over to the District Attorney's Office.
In the recorded interview played in court, Burgess told Fowler that new evidence had come to light that painted a different picture than the one Fowler had given two years before.
"We're just about to finish this case and submit it to the DA, so we had a couple of questions we wanted to clear up," Burgess told Fowler.
The detective also told Fowler that a witness saw someone get out of a van and light the Old Fire with a flare. That witness later circled Fowler's booking photo when asked to identify a suspect, Burgess said during the interview.
More at links......
08-07-2012, 01:34 PM #7
Prosecution focuses on information withheld in Old Fire investigation
SAN BERNARDINO - Information concealed from the news media and the public helped lead authorities to believe Rickie Lee Fowler was involved in the deadly Old Fire, a prosecution witness said Thursday............
Bobby Dean, who testified Thursday in San Bernardino Superior Court, said it is a technique investigators use in cases with very little physical evidence.......
The information authorities didn't release was the exact location of where the Old Fire started, that the suspect vehicle ran a stop sign on the way down the mountain shortly after the fire started and that a flare was used to start the blaze.
Some of those details came out during interviews and conversations with Fowler, Dean testified..............
During the investigation, authorities initially hypothesized that Fowler went up the mountain that day to rob his godfather, John Aylward.
"They needed a van to carry any property - drugs, guns, or whatever else was in Mr. Aylward's house that Rickie wanted to take," Dean testified.
At some point, Fowler and the people with him decided not to commit the robbery, he said.
Authorities said they later received information that changed their theory about Fowler's alleged motive.
The defendant had allegedly told his great aunt that he stashed stolen drugs at Aylward's house and he planned to burn the residence down because he thought it might get drug dealers off his back, Dean said.
08-07-2012, 01:39 PM #8
Old Fire suspect opts not to testify, jury to receive case on Wednesday
SAN BERNARDINO - Testimony in the trial of accused Old Fire arsonist Rickie Lee Fowler came to a close Monday after the San Bernardino man decided not to testify on his own behalf.
San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith cautioned the 30-year-old San Bernardino man that he could open himself up to cross-examination by prosecutors if he took the stand.
"Even though you may feel you want to explain things to the jury, it may not come out the way you want them to understand it," Smith said.
Fowler eventually decided against the idea after meeting with his attorneys.
"I'm not going to testify, your honor," he said. ...............
The case resumes Wednesday with closing arguments.
08-09-2012, 04:16 PM #9
Tweets from defense closing...read from bottom up:
Defense : #fowler never believed in credibility of polygraph
Even the alternates are bugging out
Defense: sheriffs had tunnel vision on this case
Some people confess to high profile crimes for notoriety.
Defense: #fowler admitted to being a tweaker
#fowler was trying to claim things but he's wrong. #fowler made story up
Defense: Ricky was looking like "*****" according to Valdez at time of #oldfire... They were smoking sherms together
Defense: #fowler friend Valdez was living in Muscoy at time of #oldfire
Defense : van was never stolen
#Fowler was playing games with detectives and denied starting the #oldfire
Defense: #fowler claimed he knew who did it... Claimed he was a big crime boss; delusional
Defense: Aunts conversations with #fowler about stolen guns never #oldfire
Defense: Ricky Lee Fowler is a unique person, does things make him center of attention
Defense: Stater Bros reward tainted investigation
Defense: hundreds of leads that lead nowhere
He started the fire to burn house that was robbed is theory
Defense: heavy burden of proof needed to prosecute, state didn't prove case
#fowler defense has jurors falling asleep during closing arguments #oldfire trial
Jury seems to not be listening to defense even dozing off
Defense: booking photo wits used to ID #fowler doesn't portray a likeness at all
Defense: it was not van #fowler was accused of driving when #oldfire was started
Defense: wanted to call investigators, but couldn't find them.
Defense: getting to 1st deg murder for starting a fire in California had #fowler done it is a stretch
Defense: show the innocence of the defendant #fowler
Defense: there is no evidence connecting #fowler #oldfire and van
Defense: believe evidence tunnel vision of blocks
08-09-2012, 04:21 PM #10
Tweets from prosecution closing, from bottom up:
Jury has begun deliberations in the #fowler #oldfire trial
DA: find #fowler guilty
DA: #fowler is guilty, this is an act of terrorism, evidence paints clear picture of his guilt
DA: #fowler case was a thorough evaluation of the evidence
DA: told jury to weigh evidence not to speculate
DA: it's a game to #fowler
DA: #fowler is evil, that's why he started the fire
08-09-2012, 04:37 PM #11
UPDATE: Old Fire suspect's fate in hands of jury
The jury hearing the trial of suspected Old Fire arsonist Ricky Lee Fowler began deliberations Wednesday after the prosecution and defense gave their closing arguments.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Bulloch told jurors in San Bernardino Superior Court the key evidence was a confession by Fowler. There is no physical evidence, nor DNA evidence, to link the defendant to the 2003 deadly wildfire, he said............
Defense attorney Donald Jordan told jurors that finding a first-degree murder conviction in California for starting a fire was a stretch..........
08-15-2012, 04:10 PM #12
Wildfire arsonist guilty of 5 heart attack deaths
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — A jury on Wednesday found a California man guilty of murdering five people who had heart attacks after he deliberately started a blaze that ballooned into a massive wildfire.
Jurors in San Bernardino found 30-year-old Rickie Fowler guilty of setting the Old Fire in the foothills above San Bernardino in October 2003 that burned 91,000 acres and torched 1,000 buildings over nine days.
Prosecutors charged Fowler with the murders of five men, ranging in age from 54 to 93, who died from heart attacks after their homes burned to the ground or as they rushed to evacuate. Fowler also was convicted of two counts of arson, along with special circumstances that make him eligible for the death penalty.
That phase of the proceedings is scheduled to begin Monday.
More at link.....
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08-23-2012, 08:10 PM #13
the #oldfire trial will resume wednesday, when defense attorney michael belter is expected to call his witnesses for the penalty phase
1h Lori Fowler@IEcourtsNow
short day for the #oldfire trial - prosecution rested their side after 2 witnesses. look for full story later today at http://www.sbsun.com
22 Aug Neil Nisperos@RanchoNow
Ex-girlfriend testifies that #OldFire #arson ist raped her, threatened her daughter - http://DailyBulletin.com http://www.dailybulletin.com/ci_2136...rce=rss_viewed
22 Aug SBCityNow@SBcityNOW
. @IEcourtsNow tweeting from today's hearing on whether to give death penalty to man convicted of setting #OldFire
22 Aug SBCityNow@SBcityNOW
ICYMI: Ex-girlfriend of #OldFire arsonist testified yesterday that he raped her and threatened to rape her daughter. http://www.sbsun.com/ci_21365195/old...-other-inmates
21 Aug John Asbury@johnasbury
#OldFire killer complains inmates are teasing him. Thanks to @IEcourtsNow for reporting: http://blog.pe.com/crime-blotter/201...e-teasing-him/
21 Aug California Lawyer@Cal_Lawyer
P-E: 'Justice screams out' for death, prosecutor says #OldFire #deathpenalty http://www.pe.com/local-news/san-ber...cutor-says.ece
21 Aug SB District Attorney@sbcountyda
#InCourt Day 2 of the penalty phase continues today in the #Fowler #OldFire trial at 0930 in Dept. 19 San Bernardino Superior Court
20 Aug John Asbury@johnasbury
Aylward knew Fowler before the fire. Fowler wanted to burn Alyward's house when he started the #Oldfire.
20 Aug Lori Fowler@IEcourtsNow
The DA just called John Aylward to the stand. Asked about the impact of the #OldFire & the crimes involving him
20 Aug John Asbury@johnasbury
"I had no clothes, not even a toothbrush," Taylor said. "We didn't have food at times because it was rough." #Oldfire
17 Aug Mike Brossart@MikeBrossart
Editorial: Justice and some solace for victims of 2003 #OldFire. http://bit.ly/TJXPwr
08-23-2012, 08:22 PM #14
Witnesses talk about convicted Old Fire arsonist's history in prison
SAN BERNARDINO - A former cellmate of convicted Old Fire arsonist Rickie Lee Fowler testified Wednesday about being repeatedly raped by Fowler. ........
When Bulloch asked him how he got the attacks to stop, the cellmate said that by luck he talked to a psych employee at the jail, which got him out of his cell and allowed him to report the abuse. ..........
Earlier this year, Fowler was convicted of three felony counts of sodomy by force at West Valley Detention Center..........
On several occasions Fowler was seen fighting other inmates - some who did not appear to be defending themselves - striking some in the face, head and upper torso area, and spitting and taunting others.
The witnesses also said Fowler would ignore their orders. One correctional officer talked about having to pepper spray Fowler to get him to stop attacking an inmate.
Officer Joe Castillon said Fowler was a problem.
"He used to always disturb the daily activities of the prison" in Lancaster, Castillon said.
Read more: http://www.sbsun.com/ci_21378447/wit...#ixzz24Q0PbIk0
08-25-2012, 12:54 PM #15
Columnist @MichelNolan remembers the Old Fire. Jury could give man convicted of setting it death sentence next week
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