Man Who Set Deadly Wildfire May Get Death Sentence
Jury recommends it in 2003 California fire
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 29, 2012 7:45 AM CDT
This October 2003 file photo shows damage from the Old Fire as it roared through the community of Cedar Glen in Lake Arrowhead, Calif.   (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File)

(Newser) – A jury has recommended death for an arsonist convicted of murdering five men who died of heart attacks during a wildfire that ripped through Southern California nearly a decade ago. The murder charges against Rickie Lee Fowler, 31, signaled a tough new standard for such cases. The Old Fire scorched 91,000 acres and destroyed 1,000 buildings while burning for nine days. The men died after their homes burned or as they tried to evacuate.

Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith ordered Fowler to return to court Nov. 16 for sentencing. He can either accept the jury's recommendation or sentence Fowler to life in prison without possibility of parole. Fowler was convicted in August of arson and five counts of first-degree murder for setting the massive wind-blown blaze that ravaged the hills east of Los Angeles in 2003. He didn't get charged until six years after the fact, and he's currently in prison on burglary and sexual assault charges.

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Sep 30, 2012 8:53 AM CDT
hang him high!
Sep 29, 2012 9:45 PM CDT
My question is how did all 5 men die from a heart attack and not from getting burned alive? Fire isn't the cause of heart attacks. The story says they either died after their house burned down or escaping.... Well which was it? It's been a decade and they can't figure it out? My next question is how does your house burn down before you do while your in there?
Sep 29, 2012 8:57 PM CDT
A person can start a fire, but they can't make it burn 91,000 acres, burn 100 buildings and kill 5 people. I don't see how he can be held responsible for the wind speed and direction, the drought conditions, and also have it be assumed that a lit cigaret or a lightning strike wouldn't have started the same fire with in a short amount of time of when he set his. It also seems inconclusive that their was no secondary starting point for the fire. This guy clearly has issues and may not be fit to live amongst the public, but i don't think he should get the death penalty for what amounts to 5 counts of manslaughter. A different weather pattern and those 5 men would still be alive. Keep him in a mental institution for the rest of his life if need be. It doesn't seem he had any intention of killing anyone.