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No guilty plea by arson suspect in 2003 Old fire

January 26, 2012 | 10:02 am

Five people died during the Old fire
The alleged arsonist accused of setting a 2003 fire that destroyed 1,000 homes around Lake Arrowhead decided to withdraw his request to change his plea Thursday morning.

Rickie Lee Fowler could face the death penalty for five deaths in the Oct. 25, 2003, wildfire, which leveled the Del Rosa neighborhood in San Bernardino and spread into the San Bernardino Mountains, devastating communities including Crestline and Cedar Glen.

Those who died in the fire suffered heart attacks.

Fowler had offered to "settle the case for less than death," said Supervising Dep. Dist. Atty. Robert Bulloch.

Bulloch declined to discuss the details of the plea offer, but said the district attorney's office was prepared to reject the proposal. Fowler withdrew his offer before that could occur, Bulloch said.

Defense attorney Donald Johnson declined to discuss the plea offer.

Fowler, dressed a forest green jail garb, appeared before Judge Michael A. Smith Thursday morning. Fowler's decision to withdraw his plea offer appeared to catch his defense attorneys off guard.

Jury selection in the case is scheduled to begin in March.


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-- Phil Willon in San Bernardino County

Photo: A police car pauses amid smoldering trees as the Old fire jumps Highway 18 near Running Springs in October 2003. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times