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Ex-Marine pleads no contest in North Hollywood arson fires

March 5, 2013 |  1:49 pm

Photo: Investigators believe as many as 18 vehicle fires, including those set in North Hollywood Sunday morning, may be connected. Credit: KTLA-TV A former U.S. Marine convicted of arson fires while stationed in Japan more than a decade ago pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges that he ignited several vehicle and motor home fires in North Hollywood.

Kurt Kaye Billie, 35, entered his plea to two counts of arson of an inhabited structure and one count of aggravated arson. As part of his plea, he admitted setting 21 fires to vehicles and motor homes in July and August 2011 in the North Hollywood area.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Carney said some of the fires spread to nearby inhabited structures, including apartment buildings, and two people suffered smoke inhalation.

Billie will be sentenced May 6 and as part of the plea agreement will receive 10 years in prison from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Jesic. The former Marine also admitted being convicted of arson in Okinawa, Japan, when he was stationed there in 2001, Carney said.

Billie made international news when he was arrested for burning seven restaurants and bars in Chatan in central Okinawa during two separate arsons. The judge found Billie criminally responsible for the 2001 attacks, noting he "was drunk and made the attacks to escape from reality," according to an Associated Press report of the verdict.

He caused more than $1 million damage in North Hollywood, authorities said.

A restitution hearing will be held at a later date.

In exchange for his plea, 18 remaining felony arson counts will be dismissed when he is sentenced. Billie could have faced a maximum term of life in prison on all the charges.

He was captured after undercover Los Angeles police officers saw him setting fire to a small motorhome in the 7500 block of Troost Avenue.

Billie had previously been  detained after he was found in possession of a flammable liquid and a lighter. But because he was not caught in the act, prosecutors declined to file charges immediately, and the LAPD released him.

Undercover officers crossed paths with him again, following him to a small motor home near his residence, where authorities said he set a fire. Police and the Los Angeles City Fire Department's arson squad arrested him.

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 -- Richard Winton

Follow Richard Winton (@LACrimes) on Twitter and Google+

Photo: Torched cars sit in a carport in North Hollywood in 2011. A former U.S. Marine pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges in connection with the case. Credit: KTLA-TV

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