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California arsonist sentenced to death for fatal 2003 blaze


Rickie Lee Fowler

An arsonist convicted on five first-degree murder counts in connection with the deadly 2003 Old Fire above San Bernardino was sentenced Monday to death.

Judge Michael Smith confirmed the sentence, recommended by a jury in September, for Rickie Lee Fowler. The judge had the option of life in state prison without possibility of parole.

Five men died after heart attacks suffered during evacuations forced by the 91,000 acre fire.  Fowler was convicted in August on the murder counts and two arson counts.

Read more at NBC Los Angeles

The Old Fire was one of several wildfires that burned in California in October 2003. Fowler fell under suspicion when witnesses reported seeing a passenger in a van toss burning objects into dry brush. Investigators interviewed Fowler several months after the fire, but did not have enough evidence to file charges until six years after the fire.

Fowler was already in prison on a burglary conviction at the time charges were filed. The van's driver was later shot and killed in an unrelated incident.

The Old Fire also damaged more than 1,000 homes.

"Today, after nearly ten 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 San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos.