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Man’s arson trial begins

He’s accused of setting his house on fire while his family slept inside.

December 02, 2009|By Veronica Rocha

PASADENA — The trial of a Glendale man who police say set his foreclosed home on fire while his wife and two young daughters slept got underway this week, with an arson investigator testifying Tuesday that he smelled gasoline at the scene of the January 2008 blaze.

Brian Walder, 46, is charged with three counts of attempted murder, child endangerment and arson for allegedly setting fire to his foreclosed home on the 1600 block of West Mountain Street on Jan. 24, 2008, while his wife and children were sleeping, police said. No one was injured.

A police officer who responded to a neighbor’s call entered the home and evacuated the wife and two daughters, ages 4 and 8, before the fire, which was set on the outside patio, spread indoors.

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The family had been living at the home for three years, but they were forced into foreclosure when Walder lost his job, police said.

His wife, Martha Walder, testified in Los Angeles County Superior Court that her husband’s demeanor changed after that.

The couple were more than a $1 million in debt and were talking about divorce, police said.

Brian Walder’s attorney, Stephen Kahn, said his client was innocent and would never hurt his children.

“He loves his kids,” Kahn said.

The first responding officer, a fire captain and Martha Walder have all testified so far this week.

Glendale police arson investigator Miguel Porras testified that he noticed fires had been started at two spots in the home’s patio area — a pillar and the fire pit.

“I smelled what smelled like gasoline,” Porras said.

The odor of gasoline was strong in the fire pit and on the middle and bottom portions of the wood pillar, he said.

Fire from the wood pillar radiated onto a nearby tree and caused the patio cover to collapse.

Flammable liquid on the pillar and an intentionally set flame was the only likely cause of such a blaze, Porras added.

But Kahn claimed that the fire was accidentally set when Brian Walder tripped while smoking a cigar on the patio, causing an alcohol bottle and the gasoline container to spill on the ground. The cigar then ignited the gasoline.

“We believe this case was an accident,” he told the jury.

Porras testified that the odds of a cigar setting gasoline ablaze were “highly unlikely.”


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