|Convicted Old Fire arsonist Rickie Lee Fowler, 31, receives the death penalty for the murders of five men killed in the 2003 "Old Fire" #wildfire he ignited in the mountains above San Bernardino. (Gabriel Luis Acosta/Staff Photographer)|
Fowler was convicted in August of five counts of first-degree murder and two counts of arson. A jury later recommended a death sentence for Fowler.
The men died of heart attacks after their homes burned or as they tried to evacuate
Prosecutors say Fowler lit the fire to burn down a house in 2003 out of rage after he was thrown out of a house where his family was staying.
The Old Fire scorched 91,000 acres east of Los Angeles and destroyed 1,000 buildings while burning for nine days.
Fowler became a suspect after witnesses reported seeing a passenger in a white van tossing burning objects into dry brush. Investigators interviewed Fowler several months after the fire but didn't have enough evidence to file charges until six years later.
Fowler was serving time for burglary when he was charged with starting the blaze — one of many fires that raged simultaneously throughout Southern California. He was convicted of sodomizing an inmate and sentenced to three terms of 25 years to life while in prison awaiting trial.
Prosecutors at the arson trial portrayed Fowler as a sadistic felon who raped, robbed and tortured people throughout his life.
Defense attorneys said Fowler never acknowledged starting the fire and suffered a horrific childhood with methamphetamine-addicted parents and a neighbor who molested him.
Prosecutors said Fowler gave authorities a note in 2008 acknowledging he was there when the fire began. The following year, he told reporters he had been badgered into making a confession.