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Suspect in L.A. fires pleads not guilty to 100 charges

By Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — A 24-year-old German national entered a not guilty plea Tuesday in connection with 100 arson-related charges stemming from a series of fires that terrorized Los Angeles over the New Year’s weekend.

With the addition of 63 new counts, Harry Burkhart now faces 100 felony charges related to 49 blazes set between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. Most of the fires began in automobiles but often spread to homes in Hollywood, West Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and surrounding areas.

Burkhart appeared in court wearing a yellow jailhouse shirt and pants and shackled at the waist. The judge set bail at $7.5 million.

Burkhart faces 75 counts of arson, 19 counts of arson of an inhabited dwelling, two counts of arson of an uninhabited building, two counts of attempt to burn and two counts of possession of flammable materials. If convicted of all charges he faces more than 80 years in prison.

Burkhart has now been tied by prosecutors to 49 of 51 blazes, officials said.

Los Angeles police and fire investigators said the German national was motivated by his hatred of the United States after federal officials jailed his mother, who was facing deportation.

On the first night, fires were concentrated in areas close to where Burkhart and his mother lived, in the Hollywood and West Hollywood areas. Over the next three nights, the arson incidents spread into the Hollywood Hills and San Fernando Valley.

Los Angeles police said they have physical evidence tying Burkhart to the arsons, including fire-starting materials found inside his minivan when he was arrested.

The majority of the fires were started by what authorities described as a common wood-like fire-starting device found in stores. The devices are normally used to start fires in fireplaces or grills, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.

Prosecutors and investigators say they have connected Burkhart to the crimes by physical evidence including DNA. They also have a photo of a device that he dumped when he entered the German Consulate.

Also, witnesses have identified Burkhart as being near the scene of several fires, the sources said.

Federal immigration officials said they believed Burkhart was in the U.S. on a visa that was due to expire Jan. 18. Dorothee Burkhart, the mother of Harry Burkhart, told a federal judge this month that her son is mentally ill.

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