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Journalist accused of arson released from jail

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Journalist accused of arson released from jail

  • A hung jury led to a Southern California cameraman’s release from jail, where he has sat for the past seven months awaiting to be tried on arson charges.

March 9, 2004 — After sitting in a California jail for the past seven months, a freelance cameraman was released from custody last week after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge declared a mistrial in his arson case.

Joshua Harville, of Palmdale, Calif., was arrested last July for allegedly setting a 5,100-acre blaze in Leona Valley in September 2002. On March 4, Harville was acquitted on five counts of simple arson, but the jury also found him not guilty on two counts of aggravated arson by an 8-4 deadlocked vote. Juries in California criminal trials must come to a unanimous decision, so Judge Michael E. Pastor declared a mistrial.

Harville, 23, who prosecutors say started the fire to profit from exclusive video coverage, was released on his own recognizance. He will return to court April 6 to see if he will be retried, said his attorney, Alan Baum.

“Except for this formality, the case is over,” Baum said.

Baum said he believes the case won’t likely be retried because of the split among the jury. Plus, because the jury voted unanimously to clear Harville on five counts that required proving only that he had a general intent to start a fire, it was illogical that four jurors voted to convict him of specific intent to burn homes and forestland, Baum said.

The specific-intent charges require more proof than the other counts, so they should be logically dismissed as a matter of law, he added.

Deputy District Attorney Craig Richman said he will now investigate the validity of documents presented in the case that Baum did not reveal to him before the trial, as required by California court rules. The documents allegedly prove that Harville was dropping off film at an Adelphia Cable outlet at the time the fire began, Richman said. He will ask Adelphia for official documentation to verify Harville’s claim.

Richman said his case hinged on the presence of Harville and a Toyota Camry resembling Harville’s at “a place they should not have been” at the scene.

Baum told the court that Harville drove a Ford Crown Victoria that day.

“This case started on a faulty premise, and it took on a life of its own,” Baum said. “The investigators developed tunnel vision.”

Several Los Angeles-area television stations purchased and aired some of Harville’s footage from the blaze, which destroyed five homes and caused the evacuation of 200 people.

Bail was set for $1 million, a sum Harville could not pay, so he sat in prison for the past seven months. His wife was nine months pregnant with their first child when he was released last Thursday.

(California v. Harville; Media Counsel: Alan Baum, Criminal Defense Associates, Woodland Hills, Calif.) MG

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