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Tom Wayman, who lost his home in the 2003 Old Fire, says he attended opening statements Monday to see the suspect, Rickie Lee Fowler, and the evidence for himself. Fowler, 30, is accused of starting the a 91,000-acre fire that burned 1,000 homes in the San Bernardino Mountain foothills that resulted in six deaths – five from heartattacks – that the prosecution says he is responsible for. Craig Fiegener reports from San Bernardino for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on July 9, 2012.
The arson suspect charged with murder in connection with a 91,000-acre fire that burned 1,000 homes in the San Bernardino Mountain foothills appeared in court Monday for opening statements in his trial.
Rickie Lee Fowler, 30, is accused of igniting the October 2003 Old Fire. The five murder counts stem from the deaths of five residents who suffered fatal heart attacks as they attempted to flee the fire, according to authorities.
After initially refusing to appear in the proceedsings, Fowler was brought to court in shackles, which the defense attorneys requested be blurred on video.
Judge Michael Smith denied the request for video coverage in the opening statements, during which prosecutors showed photographs of the flames that tore through the San Benardino Mountain foothills for more than a week.
Deputy DA Robert Bulloch claimed Fowler started the fire because he and his family were evicted.
At least one victim of the blaze was in court Monday to see the evidence and the suspect for himself.
"You really don’t recover from a disaster like this very quickly. It’s not something you can do in months or even a couple years; it takes years to recover," said Tom Wayman, who lost his home in the blaze.
The Old Fire was one of several wildfires that burned in California during October 2003. Fowler had pleaded not guilty to the arson and murder charges.
Fowler was interviewed in the months after the fire, but prosecutors did not have enough evidence to file charges until six years later.
Correction: An earlier version of this article reported closing statements began Monday. It has been corrected to read opening statement began Monday.