SAN BERNARDINO — Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville on Friday denied a defense motion that sought to dismiss charges against a man suspected of a deadly 2003 wildfire that took nine days to contain.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos is seeking the death penalty for Rickie Lee Fowler, who is accused of setting the “Old Fire” that started Oct. 25, 2003, destroying 1,003 homes and charring nearly 100,000 acres before being extinguished.
Fowler’s attorneys requested dismissal of five counts of murder and special circumstances. The motions were an attempt to rid Fowler of a possible death penalty sentence.
Five people died of heart attacks during the course of the fire, their ages ranging from 54 years to 93. Prosecutors say those deaths were induced by threats to homes, belongings and the stress of evacuation, justifying their links to felony fire charges.
In court on Friday, defense attorney Donald Jordan argued that the deaths were not directly linked. He called the prosecutors’ charges “an abuse of the death penalty system,” adding that the deaths were indirectly a result of the fires.
Judge McCarville denied Fowler’s attorney’s motions, according to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
A drug dispute between Fowler and his godfather is believed to be the motive for the fire. Records show that a lighted flare thrown into dry brush off Old Waterman Canyon Road, near the godfather’s home, started the fire.
The fires charred various parts of San Bernardino, Highland and mountain communities. Fowler, who was serving a state prison sentence for two unrelated burglaries several months after the fire, was charged on Oct. 8, 2009. He had previously signed a statement admitting he was present when the fire was set, but he then recanted.
Fowler will return to court this week, expected to answer charges on three counts of forcible sodomy, plus a fourth count of sodomy in a jail facility, according to court records. He has reportedly pleaded not guilty.
Golfer Rickie Fowler is not related to the suspect.