LA arson suspect was diagnosed with mental disorders, doctor says

L.A. arson suspect's angry tirades
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Story highlights

  • A Canadian doctor says she was part of a team examining Harry Burkhart in 2010
  • Diagnosis: "autism, severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression"
  • Burkhart is also suspected in a German arson probe, officials say
  • Prosecutors believe the German national set a string of fires in Los Angeles
A medical doctor in Vancouver, British Columbia, said Thursday that California arson suspect Harry Burkhart suffered from severe mental illness in 2010, when she examined him as part of a team of doctors.
Dr. Blaga Stancheva, a family physician and specialist in obstetrics, said both Burkhart and his mother, Dorothee, were her patients in Vancouver while both were applying for refugee status in Canada.
"I was asked to diagnose and treat Harry to support a claim explaining why he was unable to show up in a small-claims court case," Stancheva told CNN in a phone interview. She declined to cite the case or Burkhart's role in it.
Stancheva said she and other doctors including a psychiatrist diagnosed Burkhart with "autism, severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression." The diagnosis was spelled out in a letter she wrote for the small-claims court case, Stancheva said.
Stancheva, citing doctor-patient confidentiality, would not elaborate further, nor would she identify the psychiatrist involved in the diagnosis.
Burkhart, a 24-year-old German national, has been charged with 37 counts of arson following a string of 52 fires in Los Angeles. The charges are in connection with arson fires at 12 locations scattered through Hollywood, West Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, according to authorities.
Stancheva said the refugee applications by Burkhart and his mother were denied by the Canadian government, and she has not seen Burkhart since early March of 2010.
"I was shocked and dismayed at what happened in Los Angeles, and it appears he was not being treated for his depression," she said.
Burkhart was in court on Wednesday for a preliminary hearing.
Prosecutors said his "rage against Americans," triggered by his mother's arrest last week, motivated his "campaign of terror" with dozens of fires in Hollywood and nearby communities.
Burkhart kept his eyes closed and remained limp during most of his hearing, requiring sheriff's deputies to hold him up.
The district attorney called his courtroom behavior "very bizarre."
"This defendant has engaged in a protracted campaign in which he has set, the people believe, upwards of 52 arson fires in what essentially amounts to a campaign of terror against this community," Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney said. "The people believe he has engaged in this conduct because he has a hatred for Americans."
Carney told the court Burkhart would flee the country if he was allowed out of jail on bond, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Upinder Kalra said he had no choice but to set bail. To go free while awaiting trial, Burkhart must post a $2.85 million bond and surrender his German passport.
Deputies had to hold Harry Burkhart upright as he appeared limp during his initial court hearing on Wednesday.
It was revealed that Burkhart is also under investigation for arson and fraud in relation to a fire in Neukirchen, near Frankfurt, Germany.
The worst arson sprees in the city's history began last Friday morning with a car fire in Hollywood that spread to apartments above a garage, but no new fires have happened since Burkhart was arrested Monday, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley said.
No one was hurt in the fires, but property damage costs are likely to reach $3 million, authorities said.
Arson suspect's 'terror campaign' ends
Arson suspect's 'terror campaign' ends

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Part-time cop nabbed arson suspect
Part-time cop nabbed arson suspect

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Cooley called it "almost attempted murder," because people were sleeping in apartments above where Burkhart allegedly set cars on fire with incendiary devices placed under their engines.
The criminal complaint filed Wednesday also alleged that the fires were "caused by use of a device designed to accelerate the fire," Cooley said. "If found true, the allegation could mean additional custody time for the defendant."
"In numerous instances, the cars were parked in carports, resulting in the fires spreading to the adjacent occupied apartment buildings," a sworn affidavit from a Los Angeles arson investigator said. "The vast majority of these fires occurred late at night when the occupants of the apartment buildings were asleep."
Investigator Edward Nordskog's affidavit detailed Burkhart's behavior a day before the fires began, when he was in a federal courtroom during extradition proceedings for his mother.
"While in the audience, the defendant (Burkhart) began yelling in an angry manner, 'F--k all Americans.' The defendant also attempted to communicate with his mother who was in custody. Shortly thereafter, the defendant was ejected from the courtroom by Deputy U.S. Marshals," Nordskog wrote.
Dorothee Burkhart was arrested a day before on an international arrest warrant issued by a district court in Frankfurt, Germany, said federal court spokesman Gunther Meilinger. The 53-year-old German woman is wanted on 16 counts of fraud and three counts of embezzlement, he said.
The charges include an allegation that she failed to pay for a breast enhancement operation performed on her in 2004, Meilinger said. Most of the German charges, however, stem from phony real estate deals that Dorothee Burkhart allegedly conducted between 2000 and 2006.
"It is my opinion that the defendant's criminal spree was motivated by his rage against Americans and that by setting these fires the defendant intended to harm and terrorize as many residents of the city and county of Los Angeles as possible," Nordskog wrote.
A search of Burkhart's Hollywood apartment found newspaper clippings about the Los Angeles fires and articles from Germany reporting similar car fires in Frankfurt, Germany in September, 2011, the investigator said.
"It is my opinion based on my experience that it is highly likely the defendant has a history of setting arson fires in Germany before he came to the United States," Nordskog wrote.
Burkhart's mother is scheduled for another extradition hearing Friday, while he is due back in court for arraignment on January 24. Meanwhile, both Burkharts are housed in a Los Angeles jail.