Michelle Hernandez, who has known Rickie Lee Fowler for most of his life, spent the majority of the day talking about a conversation the two of them had after the 2003 fire had already started burning the hillside near Old Waterman Canyon.
According to police transcripts, Fowler yelled and screamed, "That's why I started these fires. See what you made me do? That's why I burned John's house down" - apparently referring to being previously kicked out of two different households.
The Old Fire, which ignited on Oct. 25, 2003, scorched more than 91,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and cost nearly $38 million, officials said.
Fowler, 30, of San Bernardino, has been charged with five counts of murder and special circumstances, which allow prosecutors to pursue the death penalty if he is convicted. Prosecutors say residents in burn areas died from heart attacks that were caused by the stress of evacuation and threats to homes and belongings.
The prosecution also alleges Fowler started the fire with a road flare because he was angry, selfish, and he wanted revenge.
Fowler and his family were living with Hernandez and her family in San Bernardino - until he was asked to stop coming around for a time.
"He had some things going on in his life," Hernandez testified inside the San Bernardino Superior Courthouse. "I'm a drama-free type of person. I don't like conflict, I don't like arguments."
When asked to elaborate, Hernandez said Fowler would fight with and curse at people inside the home.
"Rickie's family history is not a bed of roses," Hernandez said.
Although he was asked to leave, Fowler would still come to the residence to see his mom. As time went on, he became more frustrated with the situation.
While the actual date is in question, Hernandez does remember that a very emotional Fowler came to her house after the fire started, paced in the street and yelled the incriminating statements.
Hernandez testified that, based on the defendant's history, she did not immediately believe him.
"Rickie said other things that were untrue," Hernandez said.
While on the witness stand, Hernandez testified that Fowler made similar statements about starting the fire sometime later.
The situation was the same - Fowler was outside her house, talking to her from the street - but this time he was much calmer.
Hernandez testified that the second time Fowler made the statements, she thought, "there could be some truth to that."
However, Hernandez volunteered information that showed she has since changed her mind.
"To be honest with you...even sitting here today I don't believe (Rickie started the fire)," she said.
The prosecution is expected to continue questioning Fowler's friends and family members today , including the man whose home was the suspected target of the fire.
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