January 25, 2012 / 12:10 AM / 6 years ago

German man pleads innocent in Los Angeles arson spree

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A German national pleaded innocent on Tuesday to charges stemming from a wave of fires set across Los Angeles over the New Year’s weekend in what authorities called a spasm of anti-American rage.

Harry Burkhart, 24, entered not guilty pleas to 100 counts of arson and related charges during a brief hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court and was ordered held on $7.5 million bail.

Prosecutors, who charged Burkhart with 37 counts of arson days after his arrest earlier this month in the sensational case, filed an additional 63 felony counts against him shortly before the hearing.

A Los Angeles police arson investigator, Edward Nordskog, has said in court papers that he believes Burkhart, a German citizen of Chechen origin, harbors anger toward Americans.

“It is my opinion that the defendant’s criminal spree was motivated by his rage against Americans, and that by setting these fires (the) defendant intended to harm and terrorize as many residents of the city and county of Los Angeles as possible,” Nordskog wrote in court documents filed earlier this month.

State prosecutors in Germany said Burkhart was also wanted in that country on suspicion of starting a fire that burned down his family’s home in Neukirchen.

Burkhart’s 53-year-old mother was arrested in Los Angeles in December on a provisional warrant issued by German authorities and was facing extradition.

Dorothee Burkhart, who has been living in a Los Angeles apartment with her son, faces multiple charges of fraud and embezzlement in Germany, according to court documents.

Harry Burkhart was taken into custody after a tip from a member of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security field office who recognized him on surveillance videotape from an outburst during his mother’s initial court hearing in December, a state department spokeswoman said.

According to the declaration filed by Nordskog, Harry Burkhart was ejected from the courtroom during extradition proceedings for his mother after angrily shouting a profanity against Americans.

A man resembling Burkhart was captured on security cameras leaving the scene of several of the fires, which caused no fatalities. One firefighter was injured and another person suffered from smoke inhalation.

One of the fires damaged a house in the Hollywood Hills where the late rocker Jim Morrison was inspired to write the 1968 song “Love Street” about his girlfriend.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb. Editing by Paul Thomasch

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