By promising to help authorities convict his friends, a Los Angeles man escaped a possible death sentence Tuesday and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder in the arson deaths of four members of a rival Studio City motel owner's family.
As part of the plea agreement, Carlos M. Amador, 27, will be sentenced to four concurrent terms of 15 years to life in prison.
Amador is expected to cooperate with authorities preparing to try Pravin Govin, the 34-year-old owner of Studio Place Inn, and his brother, Victor Govin, 37, next month for allegedly setting the fatal blaze, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Latin.
Each is charged with four counts of capital murder and one count each of robbery, burglary and arson. Prosecutors also allege the brothers killed the four members of the Kumar family for financial gain.
Harish "Harry" Kumar told authorities that he was out on the night of May 4, 2002, when the fire started in his Hollywood Hills home. He returned shortly after 11 p.m. to discover the bungalow on fire and called 911. His wife, Gita, 42; his mother, Sitaben Patel, 63; and his children, Paras, 18, and Tulsi, 16, died in the fire.
Authorities have said they believe the motive for the killings was a dispute between the families over control of an alley in the 10700 block of Ventura Boulevard separating the Studio Place Inn, owned by Govin, and the Universal City Inn, owned by Kumar.
The deadly blaze occurred six days before the Los Angeles City Planning Commission was scheduled to hear Kumar's plan to raze his 40-room motel to build a 65-unit, three-story structure.
At the preliminary hearing, a police officer testified that Amador originally told authorities that he agreed to drive the Govins to the Kumars' Lakeridge Drive home on the night of the fire.
Attorney John E. Sweeney, who represents Pravin Govin, said prosecutors are relying on a liar to win their case. "They gave away the courthouse," he said. "For them to give a deal to the killer shows their desperation in this case.
"When all the evidence is in and all the evidence is heard, it will be clear that my client wasn't there," Sweeney said.
Harish Kumar and other family members were in court in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday when Amador entered his guilty plea.
Trial for the Govin brothers is set to begin Nov. 12 before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell.
Amador is scheduled to be sentenced April 28.