You Could Save a Murdering, Raping Arsonist’s Life–Will You?

By Jesse B. Gill

Posted October 1, 2012 in Web Only
As much murder and mayhem that goes on in Southern California, it’s actually rare that you stumble across a death penalty case, particularly in San Bernardino County.

That’s part of what makes Rickie Lee Fowler’s story so interesting.

A jury on Friday ordered a death sentence for him, and now he awaits a Nov. 16 sentencing hearing to learn his fate. He was convicted Aug. 15 of five counts of murder and two counts of arson, all connected to the 2003 Old Fire that scorched more than 91,000 acres in the San Bernardino Mountains, damaging more than 1,000 homes.

The murder charges the 31-year-old Fowler was convicted of came when five men died of heart attacks that prosecutors said were brought on by the stress of having their homes devoured by the devastating wildfire.

It took jurors 11 days to reach the decision that Fowler should see his life end as a result of lethal injection or if he should have spent the rest of his days in prison.

If Fowler gets the death penalty, Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith will have to deliver that sentence. But a measure that will appear on ballots a little more than a week before Fowler’s sentencing hearing could save his life before Smith can give a decision.

On Nov. 6, California voters will consider Proposition 34, which, if approved, would repeal the death penalty. If voters pass the measure, the most Fowler would face would be life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A look at some of Fowler’s past criminal offenses suggests that Prop. 34 may well be his only hope for survival. In court, prosecutors painted him a violent, meth-addicted psychopath and his record doesn’t exactly tell a different story.

Authorities didn’t pin the Old Fire on Fowler until 2009, when a San Bernardino Grand Jury indicted him on five murder counts with special circumstances. At the time of the indictment, Fowler was already in prison. A jury convicted him of burglary just weeks after the Old Fire began and Fowler was sentenced to a nine-year prison term.

Then there was the whole rape thing. It’s a word that’s come up in a few different contexts in Fowler’s story.

During testimony presented in Fowler’s murder and arson case, an ex-girlfriend told the jury that she once refused to take drugs with the man. And he didn’t like that.

The woman said Fowler shoved her into her bedroom, covered her head with a pillow and raped her. She said he threatened to do the same to her 5-year-old daughter if she made any noise.

And Fowler attacked or raped the woman at least six times during their short relationship, she told the jury.

In August 2010, Fowler raped his cellmate at West Valley Detention Center. A jury convicted him of three felony counts of sodomy by force. A judge sentenced Fowler in April to three life sentences in the case.

So even without the Old Fire conviction, Fowler is looking at spending the rest of his days in prison. But that’s not enough, says San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos.

Ramos held a news conference Friday to point out the impact Prop. 34 could have on Fowler’s case. See, Ramos said, if voters pass Prop. 34, that means Fowler will be in prison for the rest of his life. But, as shown in his jailhouse rape case, incarceration hasn’t slowed Fowler’s knack for making victims of people.

Of course, there’s also the issue of California’s other violent criminals, and Ramos made his case to keep them on death row as well. It’s just that the Fowler case is so fresh in our minds and Ramos wants to keep it fresh as we head to the ballot box on Nov. 6.

Which means, the fate of Rickie Lee Fowler–a hyper violent arsonist/rapist/murderer–ultimately lies in the hands of the voters. And since we assume that all Watch Dog readers are contributing members of society who, you know, vote and stuff, that means that you have a hand in deciding whether Fowler deserves mercy or whether he deserves death dealt by the State.

So what do you think? Should Rickie Lee Fowler be spared the death penalty under the provisions of Prop. 34? What about the state’s other most violent and dangerous criminals? Is life without parole a satisfactory sentence?

How do you prepare to vote?

Let us know. Leave a Facebook comment below, email Jesse B. Gill at or tweet him @jessebgillcrime.

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