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Suspect Enters Arson Case Plea

A Palmdale man denies having set a fire that burned more than 5,000 acres in Leona Valley.

August 05, 2003|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

A freelance videographer pleaded not guilty Monday to setting a brush fire in the Leona Valley that charred more than 5,000 acres and destroyed four homes.

Joshua Alan Harville, 23, of Palmdale was charged with five counts of arson for allegedly setting the fire. Authorities said he videotaped the blaze and then sold the footage to local television stations for $150.

Harville, who was being held in lieu of $1-million bail, faces a maximum of 10 years to life in prison if convicted.

Last year's fire, during one of the driest years on record, caused more than $2 million worth of losses.

Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said investigators had linked Harville to the crime through inconsistent statements that he made during television news interviews on the day of the fire.

Det. Greg Everett said Harville had told news stations that he had been in Palmdale when the fire broke out. But three witnesses had placed him and his vehicle near the fire's point of origin in Bouquet Canyon.

"We have strong evidence linking Harville to the scene of the crime and additional evidence that we will introduce at a preliminary hearing," Everett said.

Officials with the Antelope Valley public defender's office, which is representing Harville, said they had not yet assigned the case to an attorney.

Meanwhile, Harville's friends and family said he would be exonerated. "We are disappointed that the district attorney has decided to pursue a case against Joshua," said Harville's brother-in-law, Mark Montoya. "We know that Joshua is innocent and are confident that his name will be cleared, once the facts are revealed."

A preliminary hearing in the case was set for Aug. 15 at Los Angeles County Superior Court in Lancaster. Harville was arrested Thursday at Palmdale City Hall after an investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Arson-Explosives Detail, the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry into the Sept. 3, 2002, blaze.

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