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Fire Starter's Intent Is Key To Possible Murder Charge

Publication Date: 
September 05, 2009
Los Angeles Times
Carol J. Williams and Richard Winton

Kara Dansky, executive director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, discusses possible sentences if an arsonist is convicted for starting the Los Angeles wildfire:

As authorities investigate suspected arson as the cause of the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County history, prosecutors will be focused on one issue in their attempt to bring murder charges: intent.

If the Station fire was set on purpose, the arsonist could face the death penalty for the deaths of firefighters Ted Hall and Arnie Quinones. The two died Sunday in a vehicle accident while aiding a group of inmates battling the fire, which has destroyed more than 154,000 acres and 76 homes.


"For first-degree murder, the key for the state would be to prove intent to take the lives of the victims," said Stanford law professor Kara Dansky, executive director of the school's Criminal Justice Center.


Under California law, the following sentences apply, according to Dansky:

* First-degree murder: 25 years to life, life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, depending on the circumstances of the crime. In the case of murder resulting from arson, the death penalty can be applied.

* Second-degree murder: 15 years to life, 20 years to life, 25 years to life or life without the possibility of parole, depending on the circumstances.

* Voluntary manslaughter: three, six or 11 years, plus enhancements for factors like use of a firearm or repeat offense.

* Involuntary manslaughter: two, three or four years, plus enhancements.