Arsonist Convicted of Murdering 5 Who Died of Heart Attacks

Thursday, August 16, 2012
Rickie Lee Fowler

Rickie Lee Fowler, a 30-year-old career criminal, was convicted this week of setting the 2003 Old Fire that destroyed 1,000 homes and burned 91,000 acres in San Bernardino County. But the main price he will pay, which could be the death penalty, will be for the five people who died of heart attacks related to the arson.

All five victims, between the ages of 54 and 93, had serious pre-existing health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and emphysema, and weren’t killed directly by the fire. But their deaths were all connected to the stress of evacuation and that was enough for the jury to convict Fowler of two counts of arson and five counts of murder.

Fowler is eligible for the death penalty because the murders occurred during the special circumstance commission of arson. Death penalty proceedings are scheduled to start Monday.

Fowler was already in state prison for burglary when he was charged in 2009 for the Old Fire. He had been interviewed in 2004 based on a phone tip but didn’t become the focus of the investigation until 2008. Charges were filed days before the statute of limitations on arson charges was set to expire.  

Fowler admitted his intention to burn down a home as revenge against a friend he felt had wronged him. But, after initially admitting he set the blaze, Fowler denied responsibility. He said another man grabbed a roadside flair from his hands, lit it and tossed it into the brush, starting the conflagration.

Fowler was convicted of sodomizing a jail inmate while awaiting trial and was sentenced to 25-years-to-life for that crime.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

San Bernardino Man, 30, Guilty of Murder, Arson in 2003 Old Fire (by Lori Fowler, San Bernardino Sun)

California Wildfire Arsonist Rickie Fowler Found Guilty of Murder by Heart Attack (Associated Press)

Arson and Murder Charges Set in 2003 California Wildfire (by Gillian Flaccus, Associated Press)

Man Guilty of Murder and Arson in 2003 Old Fire (by Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times)

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