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Arson trial in jury’s hands

Man is accused of setting his house on fire while family was inside.

December 08, 2009|By Veronica Rocha

PASADENA — Jury deliberations began Monday evening in the trial of a 46-year-old Glendale man accused of setting his foreclosed home on fire while his wife and two children slept inside.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Suzette Clover instructed jury members Monday that if they could not determine that Brian Walder committed arson with intent, he could not be found guilty of murder.

Walder is charged with three counts of attempted murder, child endangerment, contempt of court and arson for allegedly setting fire to his patio on the 1600 block of West Mountain Street just after 3 a.m. Jan. 24, 2008, while his family slept inside. No one was hurt in the fire.

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Prosecutors claimed that Walder set the fire because he was going through tough times.

“He was going to go down with the ship,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Jodi Taksar said during closing arguments Monday.

Walder lost his job with the City of Hope and tried starting up a new business venture, but his debt spiraled out of control, eventually reaching nearly $1 million, Taksar said.

He and his family foreclosed on their home, and his wife, Martha, threatened divorce after his demeanor changed, Taksar said.

After he set the fire, she said, Walder walked inside his home and fell asleep in a chair.

About an hour after the fire started, a neighbor awoke to the sound of crackling wood and called police when she saw flames coming from Walder’s home. A Glendale police officer knocked on the home’s window and awoke Walder. Taksar contended that evidence and witness testimony proved Walder poured gasoline on the middle of a wood pillar that held up the patio.

“The fire was moving toward the house . . . where the defendant knew his wife and two kids were living,” she said.

Walder’s attorney, Stephen Kahn, said during his closing argument that his client had had too much to drink.

During his drunken stupor, Kahn said Walder picked up a gallon of gasoline with one hand and spilled it on the ground as he walked toward the fire pit to light it. One of Walder’s arms was broken and in a cast at the time.

Kahn said an ember from the blaze in the fire pit set the trail of gasoline on fire, with flames crawling up to the pillar.

Walder’s never intended to set fire to the home and kill his family, Kahn said.

“He may be a sloppy drunk, but he didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Kahn said, before making one final plea on his client’s behalf.

“I am asking you to do justice . . . everything he owns has gone. He lost it all.”


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