By Michael P. Neufeld
Mountain Communities, CA – The top story of 2012 was the five guilty verdicts in the Old Fire trial!
On August 15, the jury in the Old Fire trial of Rickie Lee Fowler, 31, returned five first-degree murder verdicts and two counts of arson. The verdicts came on the 29th day of the trial.
On the 26th day of the trial — August 9 — the jury began deliberations at 9:30 a.m. and finally agreed on the verdicts and reported their decision to Judge Michael A. Smith. The same jury recommended the death penalty for Fowler, after deliberating for 11 days.
Judge Smith was prepared to sentence Fowler on November 16 but a letter from Fowler to the court requesting that he be allowed to fire his attorneys delayed that. However, on December 14, attorneys Don Jordan and Michael Belter were retained, after Fowler withdrew his request to fire his defense team.
By Fowler withdrawing the motion, Judge Smith confirmed a Monday, January 28, sentencing date in Department S-19 at 8:30 a.m.
Despite the fact the jury of eight women and four men recommended the death penalty for Fowler, the final ruling is in the hands of Judge Smith.
Fowler, who was convicted of starting the Old Fire on October 25, 2003 in Old Waterman Canyon, was found guilty of five counts of murder, arson of an inhabited structure, aggravated arson and two special circumstances.
The special circumstances convictions allowed prosecutor Robert Bulloch to pursue the death penalty.
Fowler’s five murder convictions were for residents in burn areas who died from heart attacks that prosecutors said were brought on by the stress of evacuation and threats to their homes and belongings.
Fowler remains in custody at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga and is being held without bail.
There is also a no bail hold posted by Salinas Valley State Prison, where he was serving time for two burglary convictions in 2004. It was while Fowler was at Salinas Valley that the Grand Jury indicted him for the Old Fire in October 2009.
In April 2012, Fowler was sentenced to three terms of 25 years to life in state prison after being found guilty in February of three felony counts of sodomy by force on another inmate. Those incidents happened in August 2010.