LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles man was charged Wednesday with five capital murder counts in the deaths of five homeless people killed in a vacant building fire authorities say was intentionally set following a dispute.
Johnny Sanchez, 21, was ordered held without bail during an appearance in a downtown Los Angeles court later Wednesday, when he was given a court-appointed attorney.
Sanchez’s arraignment was postponed until July 27 at the request of his attorney, whose name was not clear and could not be reached.
The charges against Sanchez, who’s also homeless, make him eligible for the death penalty if he’s convicted, if prosecutors choose to pursue it.
The Monday night fire killed three men and two women. Four of the badly burned bodies weren’t found until Tuesday afternoon, when search dogs located them under a heap of debris on the second floor.
Two of the victims were identified as 59-year-old Jerry Dean Clemons and 44-year-old Mary Anne Davis. The other three haven’t been identified.
Sanchez was in a dispute with the others and lit the fire with the intent to kill, Los Angeles Police Capt. Billy Hayes said.
It took nearly 150 firefighters more than two hours to extinguish the fire in the green, two-story building that once was home to an acupuncture clinic. It is surrounded by strip malls and an apartment building in the Westlake District about a mile west of downtown LA.
The structure appeared to be singed and some of its windows were blown out. It did not appear seriously damaged from the outside, but the inside was badly burned and most of the roof was gone.
There had been complaints about the building recently, Terrazas said, and authorities had contacted the owner — who has sought a demolition permit for the building — about keeping people out.
Sanchez has a police record involving drugs and domestic violence, police said. He was being held on $1 million bail.
Associated Press writer Andrew Dalton contributed to this report.
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