The Madeleine Brand Show

The Madeleine Brand Show is a daily, two-hour program that looks at news and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Madeleine Brand

Arson can be difficult crime to prove

by The Madeleine Brand Show

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Cars that were burned in a spree of arson fires lie in ruins in Los Angeles Jan. 2. Police have taken a suspect into custody whom they believe was responsible for setting more than 50 fires over the weekend. David McNew/Getty Images

L.A. residents are breathing a sigh of relief this morning. The big news: No more arson fires overnight. Authorities put handcuffs on the man they believe is responsible for more than 50 fires set over the long holiday weekend and identified the suspect as 24-year-old Harry Burkhart of Hollywood.

Former FBI agent Brad Garrett, who now works as an investigator in the private sector, has been closely following the case.

Garrett said Burkhart may have acted out of anger. Arsonists "tend to have some sort of grudge, either towards a particular individual, organization, or a sort of a global anger or hatred," he said.

According to an ABC News source, Burkhart said "I hate America" as he was detained.

Arsonists are empowered by setting fires because they can do it quite easily, Garrett said. "It allows him to globally damage [Americans] who he claims have wronged him. Of course it makes no logical sense, nor will it help his plight," he said.

Burkhart was arrested on Sunset Boulevard about 3 a.m. Monday and charged with one count of arson. Garrett said that at first, it's common for prosecutors take a criminal to court with one charge, even if the criminal has committed multiple-offenses.

"Charge them with one case. Once you get them locked up, held with that bond, then you can work and put the evidence together on the rest of them," he said.

At a press conference, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck announced that law enforcement officials found incendiary material in Burkhart's van that matched evidence from some crime scenes. Beck continued to say that he's confident they arrested the right man.

According to Garrett, finding evidence was fortunate. Convicting an arsonist is difficult, especially without eye-witnesses, he said. Arsons "are a solitary crime," he continued. "People are doing them alone, they don't typically tell people they're going to do them, and they often do not tend to want to cooperate with investigators."


Brad Garrett, former FBI agent. He's been following the case.

With contributions from Andrea Wang

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