LOS ANGELES—A German man set nearly 50 fires in a California arson spree because he wanted revenge for his mother’s deportation, a prosecutor told jurors Monday.
Harry Burkhart inflicted “unspeakable devastation and terror,” Los Angeles County prosecutor Sean Carney told jurors in his opening statement, City News Service reported. Burkhart, 29, had threatened to “roast America” after his mother, Dorothee Burkhart, was ordered extradited to Germany to face fraud charges, prosecutors said.
Authorities say Burkhart placed incendiary devices under cars in Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley and West Hollywood on Dec. 30 and Dec. 31, 2011, and on Jan. 2, 2012.
Some vehicles were in carports and in 19 cases the fires spread to homes and apartments.
The sheer number of fires “brought the fire department in this city to its knees,” Carney said.
There were no serious injuries or deaths as a result of the fires, but damages were estimated to be more than $3 million.
Burkhart “wanted America to burn” and “was going to resolve his grievance through fire and fear,” Carney said. “He was ready to set many more.”
He was arrested in 2012. Burkhart’s anti-American outburst during a detention hearing for his mother in 2011 cemented his likeness in the mind of a deputy U.S. marshal, who authorities say recognized him after police began circulating a video showing the man wanted in the arson spree.
Burkhart is charged with dozens of felonies and could face 80 years in state prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.
In a brief opening statement, Deputy Public Defender Steve Schoenfield said prosecutors can tie Burkhart to only six or seven fires and said a sanity phase of the trial is almost a certainty.