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Arsonist gets death for Calif. wildfire

Fowler was convicted in August.

Stan Lim/The Press-Enterprise, via AP

Fowler was convicted in August.

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — An arsonist was sentenced to death on Monday for killing five men who died of heart attacks during a wildfire that ripped through the hills east of Los Angeles a decade ago.

Superior Court Judge Michael Smith had the option of sentencing Rickie Lee Fowler, 31, to the harshest penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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‘‘Today, after nearly 10 years, justice has now been secured for the victims and their families, and those whose lives were affected by the actions of Rickie Lee Fowler,’’ said District Attorney Michael Ramos.

Fowler was convicted in August of five counts of first-degree murder and two counts of arson. A jury recommended a death sentence for Fowler.

Prosecutors said Fowler lit the fire in 2003 in a rage after he was thrown out of a house where his family was staying.

The Old Fire scorched 91,000 acres in October 2003 and burned for nine days in the foothills above San Bernardino. The men died after their homes burned or as they tried to evacuate.

Fowler became a suspect after witnesses reported seeing a passenger in a white van tossing burning objects into dry brush. Defense attorneys said Fowler never acknowledged starting the fire.

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