|News Media Update||CALIFORNIA||Newsgathering|
Freelance cameraman on trial for arson
- Prosecutors allege that a freelance cameraman started a massive forest fire to profit from the sale of video clips.
Feb. 24, 2004 — A freelance TV cameraman is on trial this week in Lancaster, Calif., for allegedly setting a 5,100-acre forest fire to film and sell his exclusive footage to area news stations.
Joshua Harville, 23, was arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department last July on charges of aggravated arson in the Sept. 3, 2002, Leona Valley blaze that destroyed five homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of people.
Jean Daly, deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County, told the court on Feb. 17 that Harville was motivated by his desire to record and sell compelling news, the Los Angeles Times reported the following day. Harville did sell some of his footage to Los Angeles-area news stations.
Harville’s attorney, Alan Baum, insisted that the district attorney’s case is based on circumstantial evidence.
Because Harville is a freelance photographer and not an employee of a news organization, he has had to pay for his own legal counsel. He has been held in jail since last July, after his bail was set at $1 million.
The lynchpin of the prosecution’s case is that several witnesses saw a car that resembled Harville’s Toyota Camry parked on the canyon where the fire first started, the Times reported.
Baum contended that Harville’s wife was driving the Camry that day, and that witnesses gave inconsistent descriptions of the car. Harville, Baum added, drove to the fire in a Ford Crown Victoria, which he uses for work because it resembled a police or fire vehicle with its lights, antennas and spotlights.
“He used it to get in and out of crime scenes and events more easily,” Baum said.
While no one saw Harville start the blaze, Daly claimed that fire officials spotted him at the scene soon after the fire began. The prosecution said Harville also gave conflicting statements about the fire to investigators and the news media, the Times reported.
The Los Angeles County Arson/Explosives unit investigated Harville for 11 months and placed a tracking device on his car. When Harville noticed the device, he became concerned and drove to the sheriff’s station, Baum said. Harville was then arrested and charged with aggravated arson.
Baum said Harville was at the offices of Adelphia Cable when he heard over a scanner that the fire had broken out, prompting him to head to the scene with his camera.
“It’s a competitive business,” Baum told the Times, “and if you’re not first, you’re last.”
(The People v. Joshua Harville; Counsel: Alan Baum, Criminal Defense Associates, Woodland Hills, Calif.) — MG
© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press