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3 Plead Not Guilty in Malibu Fire Case

  Court Watch  -   POSTED: 2007/12/24 09:04

Three men pleaded not guilty Friday to causing a wildfire that destroyed 50 homes in Malibu, and their lawyers said outside court they were being made scapegoats by an outraged community.

Attorneys entered not guilty pleas for Brian David Franks, 27; William Thomas Coppock, 23; and Brian Alan Anderson, 22, all of Los Angeles.

They are among five men who have been charged with recklessly causing a Nov. 24 fire that swept through 4,000 acres of Malibu canyon land. Six firefighters were hurt battling the blaze, and 50 homes and 35 other buildings were destroyed.

Dean Allen Lavorante, 19, and Eric Matthew Ullman, 18, face arraignment in February. They and Anderson are free on bail.

The five are charged with recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing fire to inhabited structures. They could face more than a decade each in prison if convicted.

Superior Court Judge Michael K. Kellogg, who works in the San Fernando Valley but lives in Malibu, took the unusual step of denying from the bench that his Malibu neighbors had pressured him.

"Nobody's putting pressure on me," he said. "No one ... has come down from Malibu and knocked on my door and said, 'Hey Judge, we know where you live!"

Kellogg scheduled a preliminary hearing for Jan. 7 to determine whether there is enough evidence to hold the three for trial.

After the hearing, defense attorneys said their clients were being scapegoated.

"The Malibu community and the political pressure by the governor and other factors," led to charges being filed, said Andrew Reed Flier, who represents Coppock.

Arson investigators said food wrappers and precut logs led them to determine the blaze started with an illegal campfire in a cave-like depression on state park land in Corral Canyon that was known as a favorite partying spot for young people.


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