Crime & Justice

Jury can't decide sanity of German who set Los Angeles fires

File: In this courtroom sketch, Harry Burkhart, a native of Germany who has been living in Los Angeles and is suspected in a series of arson fires, is restrained by guards as he alternately tries to stand and sit during his arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 in Los Angeles. Burkhart was convicted earlier this month, but the same jury deadlocked during the sanity phase of his trial.
File: In this courtroom sketch, Harry Burkhart, a native of Germany who has been living in Los Angeles and is suspected in a series of arson fires, is restrained by guards as he alternately tries to stand and sit during his arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 in Los Angeles. Burkhart was convicted earlier this month, but the same jury deadlocked during the sanity phase of his trial.
Mona Shafer Edwards/AP

A judge declared a mistrial Friday over whether a German man was sane when he set dozens of fires across Los Angeles during three nights of terror nearly five years ago.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Lomeli declared the mistrial after jurors deadlocked in the sanity phase of Harry Burkhart's trial.

The same jury previously found the former Frankfurt resident guilty of nearly 50 arson counts for fires he set around New Year's 2012.

Burkhart, 29, made good on threats to "roast America" to avenge his mother's extradition to Germany on fraud charges, a prosecutor said.

He placed fire-starting devices under cars in Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley and West Hollywood on three nights between Dec. 30, 2011, and Jan. 2, 2012, authorities said. Some vehicles were in carports and in 19 cases the fires spread to homes and apartments.

No one was seriously injured during the fires that caused an estimated $3 million in damage, but the blazes ignited widespread fear.

Defense attorney Steve Schoenfield argued that Burkhart was seriously mentally ill and asked jurors to find him insane. He said medical records from doctors in Germany had documented mental illness symptoms over many years.