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Rickie Lee Fowler murder/arson trial begins in San Bernardino

Wildfires Arson Murder

Kevork Djansezian/AP

Oct. 30, 2003: A view from a burned out home showing a pine tree forest and homes which were consumed by the Old Fire as it roared through the community of Cedar Glen in Lake Arrowhead, Calif. A grand jury indicted Rickie Fowler on Tuesday Oct. 20, 2009, on five counts of murder for this 2003 wildfire in Southern California that destroyed about 1,000 homes and was linked to a half-dozen heart attack deaths.

Opening statements in the murder/arson trial of Rickie Lee Fowler -- the California man accused of lighting a deadly 2003 wildfire -- started Monday with the defendant appearing in shackles after initially refusing to come to court.

Prosecutors say Fowler ignited the blaze dubbed the "Old Fire" in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.

91,000-acres burned, 1,000 homes were destroyed and five residents suffered fatal heart attacks. Fowler is charged with five counts of murder for those deaths.

Suspected early in the fire investigation, authorities were not able to press charges until six years later. If conviced, Fowler could face the the death penalty

The defendant also faces additional felony charges of forcible sodomy in a separate case. Last summer he allegedly raped a fellow inmate at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, where he is currently serving a nine-year sentence for an unrelated burglary conviction.