UPDATE – Monday, January 28 –11:45 a.m.
San Bernardino, CA – A death sentence has been handed down for Rickie Lee Fowler.
San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith followed the recommendation of the jury that found the 31-year-old Fowler guilty of starting the 2003 Old Fire that claimed the lives of five victims, according to various news sources.
Judge Smith had the option of imposing life in state prison without the possibility of parole.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S STATEMENT
San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos issued the following statement regarding Fowler’s sentencing:
“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,” Ramos stated.
.Additional details will be announced as they become available.
By Michael P. Neufeld
San Bernardino, CA – Old Fire arsonist Rickie Lee Fowler’s sentencing is set for January 28.
Fowler was convicted August 15 of five counts of first-degree murder and two counts of arson in connection with the October 2003 Old Fire. And despite the fact a jury of eight women and four men recommended the death penalty for Fowler, the final ruling is in the hands of Judge Michael A. Smith. Judge Smith’s decision will be announced at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, January 28, in Department S-19.
If Judge Smith sentences Fowler to death, he will have plenty of company on death row. The California Department of Corrections shows there are currently 727 prisons on death row — 707 males and 20 females. Thirty-five of those inmates are from San Bernardino County.
California’s last execution was Clarence Ray Allen in 2006. State-approved executions were first authorized in 1851. Several legal challenges over the years halted executions for several years and, in November, voters decided to continue the use of the death penalty in the state.
The California Department of Corrections reports that 307 inmates died from hanging, 196 died in the gas chamber and 14 by lethal injection (the current method used in California). State officials report that since 1978, over 75 death row inmates had died of natural causes, suicide or other reasons.
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 San Bernardino County 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.