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

(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.

This October 2003 file photo shows damage from the Old Fire as it roared through the community of Cedar Glen in Lake Arrowhead, Calif.
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)
This undated image provided by the San Bernardino County District Attorney's office shows Rickie Lee Fowler.
This undated image provided by the San Bernardino County District Attorney's office shows Rickie Lee Fowler.   (AP Photo/San Bernardino County District Attorney, file)
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