Jury begins penalty phase after convicting arsonist for murder in Old Fire trial

Wildfires Arson Murder

Kevork Djansezian/AP

This Oct. 30, 2003 file photo shows 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.

A San Bernardino jury begins hearing evidence Monday in the penalty phase of convicted arsonist and murderer Rickie Lee Fowler. Those 12 determining his sentencing are the same who convicted him of setting the 2003 ‘Old Fire' two days ago.

The five victims died of what prosecutors say was stress-related heart failure, after a 90,000-acre wildfire burned for nearly 10 days in the mountain towns above San Bernardino County. Prosecutors say Fowler torched the mountainside to get revenge on an acquaintance.

Fowler admitted that he’d been in the area where the fire began, but tried to blame the arson on a friend who died in the years following the fire.

Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors excluded other evidence, and pointed out that the five victims had pre-existing health problems, including heart disease.

Jurors spent just over four days deliberating the case before they convicted Fowler on all five counts of felony murder.

The jury will hear additional witness testimony during the penalty stage, including more details about the victims, how they died and the effect of their deaths upon loved ones.

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