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L.A.-area arson suspect 'motivated by rage against Americans'

January 4, 2012 |  4:31 pm

Photo: Harry Burkhart being arrested Monday. Credit: KTLAHollywood arson suspect Harry Burkhart was "motivated by rage against Americans" and sought to terrorize as many people as possible when he torched dozens of Los Angeles-area cars, homes and garages over New Year's weekend, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said in charging documents filed Wednesday.

Felony complaint against Harry Burkhart Prosecutors said they filed 37 felony counts against the 24-year-old German national -- 28 for alleged attacks on property and nine involving inhabited structures -- and that further charges could be forthcoming as investigators continue their work on the arson spree.

In a written appeal for denial of bail, Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Carney said investigators had concluded that Burkhart set the fires late at night, when most residents of the targeted areas were sleeping, to inflict maximum fear and damage.

DOCUMENT: Read the felony complaint

The charging documents also allege that Burkhart used an acceleration device in setting the fires, which, if proven in court, could add additional prison time, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement. 

If convicted on all 37 counts and the special circumstance of using an accelerant, Burkhart could face a  maximum sentence of 341 years in prison if ordered to serve them consecutively, according to the charging document.

Los Angeles police say they found fire-starting material in Burkhart's minivan when he was arrested early Monday.

MAP: Southland arsons

Hours before the charges were filed, prosecutors in Germany said Burkhart was suspected of torching a home owned by his family six days before his latest entry into the United States.

Burkhart is being investigated in the Oct. 14 fire near Marburg, in central Germany north of Frankfurt, that inflicted about $50,000 in damage to the rustic, half-timbered house and nearby structures, German authorities told The Times.

Burkhart's family later filed an insurance claim for the blaze, said Annemarie Wied, a spokeswoman for the Hesse state prosecutor's office in the Marburg area.

U.S. authorities said Burkhart entered the U.S. on Oct. 20 on a flight from Frankfurt to Las Vegas.

PHOTOS: Southland arsons

Burkhart and his mother visited the German consulate in Los Angeles on Oct. 26 to begin the paperwork to renew Harry Burkhart's passport, the U.S. attorney's office said in a complaint filed last month.

Federal immigration officials said they believed Burkhart was in the United States on a visa due to expire in two weeks. But authorities could not find a visa file for his mother, Dorothee, with whom Burkhart lived and often traveled.

It was unclear how Dorothee Burkhart gained entry into the United States, said Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department.


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-- Richard Winton, Victoria Kim and Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles, and Efrem Gebreab in Germany

P hoto: Harry Burkhart being arrested Monday.

Credit: KTLA-TV Channel 5