American Scene: Wildfire arsonist guilty of 5 heart attack deaths

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SAN BERNARDINO — A jury on Wednesday found a California man guilty of murdering five people who had heart attacks after he deliberately started a blaze that ballooned into a massive wildfire.

Jurors in San Bernardino found Rickie Fowler, 30, guilty of setting the Old Fire in the foothills above San Bernardino in October 2003. It burned 91,000 acres and torched 1,000 buildings over nine days.

Prosecutors charged Fowler with the murders of five men, ranging in age from 54 to 93, who died from heart attacks after their homes burned to the ground or as they rushed to evacuate. Fowler also was convicted of two counts of arson with special circumstances that make him eligible for the death penalty.

That phase of the proceedings is scheduled to begin Monday.

Police: Burglar made off with Steve Jobs‘ wallet

PALO ALTO — The burglar who broke into Steve Jobs‘ house made off with the Apple Inc. co-founder’s wallet with $1 inside and his driver’s license in addition to Apple gadgets and jewelry, according to a police report released Tuesday.

The details of the July 17 theft and the suspect’s alleged confession were reported Tuesday by the San Jose Mercury News.

The suspect, Kariem McFarlin, 35, targeted the unoccupied Palo Alto home because it was under renovation, authorities said. When construction crews left, he hopped a fence and found a spare key, according to the report. Mr. McFarlin apparently realized he was in Jobs‘ house when he saw a letter addressed to him.

Also taken in the 15-hour overnight heist were iPhones, iPads, iPods, Mac computers, Cristal Champagne and $60,000 worth of Tiffany & Co. jewelry. Mr. McFarlin sold the jewelry to a dealer online and gave the iPads to a daughter and a friend, according to the report.

Mr. McFarlin was arrested at his Alameda home earlier this month after Apple investigators identified him after he connected to the Internet on the stolen devices with his iTunes account, police said.

MICHIGAN

Human body parts found in sewer

STERLING HEIGHTS — Contractors found about a dozen pieces of human flesh and other body parts Wednesday while they were clearing debris in a sanitary sewer pipe 50 feet below a busy suburban Detroit road.

Workers stumbled upon the parts about 8:30 a.m. while beginning their daily work in the 9-foot-6-inch-wide pipe in Sterling Heights.

“It’s not like there were arms or legs; it was small pieces,” said Sterling Heights Police Lt. Luke Riley. “One of the pieces has what appears to be part of a tattoo.”

Investigators don’t think the parts had been in the sewer too long, Lt. Riley said.

The Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office was examining the pieces. Authorities also were checking on missing-person reports.

The parts are thought to have washed into the work area from one of two large lines flowing into the sewer from the north and west.

ILLINOIS

Peterson withdraws request for mistrial

JOLIET — Drew Peterson told a judge Wednesday that he wanted to withdraw a request for a mistrial, and his attorneys explained that the former suburban Chicago police officer wants the current jury to decide if he killed his third wife.

Defense attorneys also asked Judge Edward Burmila to declare all hearsay evidence in the trial inadmissible — a motion the judge again denied. Testimony resumed soon after that.

Prosecutors are trying to prove that Mr. Peterson, 58, killed his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. He was charged after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007.

Before the judge agreed to take the mistrial motion off the table, he asked Mr. Peterson to confirm that was his wish.

“Yes, your honor,” Mr. Peterson said, standing at the defense table.

Defense attorneys asked for a mistrial Tuesday after Judge Burmila admonished prosecutors for violating his order not to mention whether Mrs. Savio had asked for an order of protection against Mr. Peterson. The prosecutor who mentioned the order apologized to the judge, but Mr. Peterson’s attorneys called the prosecution’s actions unfair.

NEW YORK

Police: Propane cause of blast, ignition probed

BRENTWOOD — Police say a propane explosion destroyed a suburban New York house, killed a toddler and injured 17 other people. Officials say they are still trying to determine what ignited the gas.

Suffolk County authorities returned to the scene Wednesday in the middle-class neighborhood of Brentwood on Long Island.

Police on Wednesday confirmed preliminary suspicions that propane was the cause. Two 200-pound propane gas tanks were on the premises, but no natural gas lines were present.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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