Previous coverage

  • PHOTOS: Gallery from guilty verdict, Aug. 15
  • San Bernardino man, 30, guilty of murder, arson in 2003 Old Fire
  • Jurors inquire about 'intent vs. recklessness' during Old Fire deliberations
  • Update: Old Fire suspect's fate in hand of jury
  • Old Fire suspect opts not to testify, jury to receive case on Wednesday
  • Prosecution focuses on information withheld in Old Fire investigation
  • Former detective used lying techniques in hopes of garnering confession from Old Fire suspect
  • 2004 Fowler interview with law enforcement wraps Tuesday testimony
  • Audio interviews with suspect played again in 2003 Old Fire trial
  • Law professor testifies at Old Fire trial about false confessions
  • After failing polygraph, Fowler admits being present at start of 2003 Old Fire
  • Suspected Old Fire arsonist denies involvement during polygraph test
  • Detective testifies about efforts to find those involved in Old Fire ignition
  • Prosecution in Old Fire trial rests
  • Recorded conversations with suspected Old Fire arsonist shed light on his involvement
  • Coroner: Stress from fire, not pre-existing medical conditions, caused deaths of Old Fire victims
  • Witness testifies Fowler was using drugs and was very angry
  • Family friend testifies on arson suspect's words, behavior at the time of the Old Fire trial
  • Fowler trial testimony focuses on victims
  • Prosecution opens its case against alleged Old Fire arsonist
  • Old Fire victims reflect as trial commences
  • 2003 Old Fire suspect faces death penalty
  • Only Fowler facing trial
  • Details emerge on six victims of deadly 2003 Old Fire
  • Fowler implicates self
  • From jail, suspect denies role in Old Fire
  • The 2003 Old Fire: pain, loss and, finally, some closure six years later
  • Murder, arson charges filed against Old Fire suspect
  • SAN BERNARDINO - Defense attorneys for Rickie Lee Fowler, the suspected arsonist in the 2003 Old Fire, wrapped up on Tuesday the interview that occurred between law enforcement and their client in 2004.

    Over the past few days Don Jordan, who represents Fowler, had been playing audio recordings from February 2004, where the defendant was brought in to talk to authorities about the deadly fire.

    Sgt. Joe Palomino was called again to the witness stand to answer questions about the final interview in the 2004 series. He was a detective with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department at the time, assigned to the sheriff's homicide division.

    In the interview, played for the jury in San Bernardino Superior Court, Fowler told the detective he was back voluntarily. But the defendant initially refused to give any information about the day the Old Fire started.

    "In the beginning of the two-day interview, he told me he knew nothing about the fire," Palomino testified on Tuesday. "I took that at face value. But an hour later, it comes to light - Fowler said he was there."

    Palomino said that started a gradual progression of bits of truth, which came out in two days of interviews.

    "I had to try and decipher what was the truth and what wasn't the truth," he said.

    "Mr. Fowler is very street smart, he's very manipulative and his statements were given for a self-serving reason," Palomino said.

    Palomino's testimony mimicked the opening statements of Supervising Deputy District Attorney Robert Bulloch, who said Fowler toyed with authorities during the investigation and shared only fragments of information.

    The Old Fire investigation - deemed the largest criminal investigation in San Bernardino County history - went on for years because of Fowler's withholding of information, the prosecution said.

    Fowler, 30, of San Bernardino, is suspected of starting the 2003 Old Fire that burned more than 91,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 structures after starting on Oct. 25, 2003. The fire cost nearly $38 million.

    The defendant 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 five residents in burn areas died from heart attacks caused by the stress of evacuation and threats to homes and belongings.

    Fowler has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

    Throughout the sheriff's interviews, Fowler maintained that he did not start the fire.

    "Court don't bother me 'cause I know I didn't light the fire and I know there is no circumstantial evidence to prove that I did so," he told Palomino during the recorded interview.

    Fowler later admitted to being present when the fire was set.

    "Why did the fire start?" Palomino asked him.

    "Accidental, probably, it was accidental," Fowler said. "It was started, but it wasn't meant to start the way it started. OK, it was lit with intent but not intent to burn a mountain down. It wasn't lit to go ahead and burn (stuff) down."

    Jordan said that was the last interview with Fowler for two years. A sheriff's interview from 2006 is expected to be heard in court Wednesday.

    Reach Lori via email or call her at 909-483-9378.