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Trial under way in deadly 2003 Calif. wildfire
Trial under way in deadly '03 California wildfire despite defendant's refusal to come to court
By The Associated Press

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP)  Opening statements have begun in the arson and murder trial of a California man accused of starting a disastrous 2003 wildfire.

Defendant Rickie Lee Fowler was brought to San Bernardino County Superior Court in shackles after initially refusing to come to court Monday morning.

Prosecutors say Fowler ignited the so-called Old Fire in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles. The 91,000-acre fire burned 1,000 homes, and five residents suffered fatal heart attacks. Fowler is charged with five counts of murder because of those deaths.

Fowler was suspect in the fire early on but authorities were unable to press charges until six years later.

The Old Fire was one of numerous wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes across Southern California in 2003.

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