YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Los Angeles

Arsonist Who Torched Man Sentenced to Life


A 23-year-old man with a fascination for fire was sentenced Friday to life in prison for pouring paint thinner on a man while he slept outside a San Fernando convenience store and igniting it.

In late January, a jury ruled that Jose Manuel Carranza of Sylmar, a high school dropout who had no prior criminal record and may have been responsible for as many as 50 fires through the years, was sane when he attacked and torched Luciano Olmeda, 45, of Lincoln Heights. Carranza was convicted of murder and arson on Feb. 20, 2001.

Carranza's attorney, Dale Rubin, who filed an appeal just after the sentencing, said his client should be in a mental institution for the rest of his life, not in prison.

"It's a very emotional case," Rubin said. "Here we have a young boy who never had a criminal record and needed additional help with his mental condition. He's not going to get that help in prison."

About 20 relatives and friends of Carranza sat in the courtroom, many sobbing when Superior Court Judge Meredith C. Taylor spoke about Carranza and the May 18, 1997, crime.

Olmeda was drunk and unconscious outside a 7-Eleven store when Carranza, 18 at the time, attacked him.

Carranza kicked him in the face, breaking his jaw and causing bleeding of the brain, Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Taklender said.

Carranza then poured paint thinner in Olmeda's lap and set him on fire.

Olmeda suffered third-degree burns over half his body and died later that day.

Hours before the attack, Carranza started two trash-can fires and burned the front doors of churches in San Fernando and Pacoima, police said.

Rubin argued that Carranza was insane at the time of the crime and has had "a fascination for fire" ever since a childhood head injury.

"He should have been treated for his condition when he was young," Rubin said. "If he would have, we may not be here now."

Los Angeles Times Articles