Man charged in Calif. wildfire weighs plea change

A man charged with setting a 2003 Southern California wildfire that caused five fatal heart attacks briefly offered to plead guilty but then changed his mind.

Rickie Lee Fowler, 30, indicated he was willing to change his not-guilty plea at a hearing Monday but on Thursday withdrew the offer, court records show.

Fowler wanted prosecutors to refrain from seeking the death penalty and stop pursing a separate sodomy case against him, said Robert Bulloch, supervising deputy district attorney. The deal would not have been accepted, but prosecutors did not even get to discuss it with Fowler before he changed his mind, he said.

“The conversation was cut dramatically short,” Bulloch said.

Michael Belter, Fowler's attorney, declined to discuss details of the short-lived plea offer.

“There was an interest to resolve all the cases, but in the end it didn't work out,” Belter said.

Prosecutors said Fowler set the 91,000-acre Old Fire in 2003 that burned 1,000 homes in San Bernardino County. Fowler is scheduled to stand trial March 12 on murder and arson charges.

Fowler was charged in 2010 with jailhouse sodomy. He is scheduled to stand trial on those charges next week.

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