By City News Service
A series of fires that a UC Irvine professor ignited following the suicide of his 14-year-old son never amounted to a legitimate threat against anyone, a factor that should be considered by the judge weighing the educator's punishment, the defendant's attorneys argued Wednesday.
Rainer Klaus Reinscheid, 49, of Irvine, had been expected to learn his fate, but Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett—who must mete out a sentence anywhere between three and 18 years—said he needed more time to digest hours of verbal arguments made over three court sessions and hundreds of pages of documents.
The judge said he will announce his decision Thursday afternoon, bringing an end to the marathon sentencing hearing.
Reinscheid was "self-medicating" with drugs he ordered online and cheap wine, compounding the grief from his son's suicide and leading to a "perfect storm" that provoked the arsons, defense attorney Joshua Glotzer said.
Reinscheid's son had been having "emotional and learning issues," as well as suffering from depression, before taking his life, Glotzer said. He was a loner at school and only had one friend, the attorney said.
The boy acted out by stealing food, prompting University High School Assistant Principal Michael Georgino to punish the student with trash pick-up duty in March of last year, Glotzer said. The boy left campus about 1:30 p.m., and his father and stepmother searched for him through the night, the attorney said.
The next day, Irvine police informed Reinscheid and his wife that the boy had hanged himself in a park. The teen's father found his backpack and bike during the previous night's search and left a note there saying, "Please come home," and signing it "Poppa," Glotzer said.
Mental health experts defense attorneys consulted say the trauma of the suicide combined with the alcohol and drug use damaged his client's ability to think rationally, Glotzer said. Reinscheid kept a journal detailing plans to kill University High School students and administrators as a form of therapy, not because he seriously wanted to carry out the threats, his attorneys argued.
The professor has never been charged in relation to the threats, but the evidence is being considered in sentencing.
The defense's mental health experts also claim Reinscheid is not a risk to re-offend and that it is likely he will be deported to Germany after he is done serving time for the arsons, Glotzer said.
"This is a very emotional, sad case on both sides," Glotzer said.
Reinscheid's other attorney, Dan Leib, argued that the blazes Reinscheid set in Irvine were minor. Reinscheid torched a plastic chair on Georgino's porch, which the victim himself doused with water, Leib said. Georgino extinguished a stack of burning newspapers on his property, as well, Leib said.
"These were not enormous blazes. They were small in nature," Leib said.
The blazes the defendant set at Mason Park Preserve in Irvine, where his son died, showed "very little risk of spreading out of control," Leib argued. Two fires at the high school were on a window sill and, "the risk of them taking off was minimal at best," he said.
"There are a lot of ifs, maybes and what-ifs" in the prosecution's arguments, Leib said.
At Tuesday's hearing, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Katz argued that the size of risk of the fires shouldn't matter.
"He may be a brilliant scientist, but he's a lousy arsonist," Katz told the judge, adding that's not unusual. "The defendant is lucky the building didn't burn down, but his luck shouldn't be a mitigating factor."
Reinscheid apologized at Tuesday's hearing to his victims, his family, his colleagues and to Katz.
"I can now admit afer my son's death my grief was overwhelming," Reinscheid told the judge. "My grief turned into frustration and anger."
Reinscheid said in retrospect he recognizes that his belief that he "failed as a father" was "transferred" onto Georgino.
After about a year in custody, Reinscheid said he became a Christian, as did his wife.
"My irrational thoughts and frustration are gone," he said. "I lost my son and then I lost myself. Now I am asking you and so many others to give me and show me mercy."
Reinscheid said he wanted to be free to try to provide for his family again.
"Please, your honor, let me go back to my son. He's only 7," Reinscheid said, adding that his surviving son told his mother over the holidays that he didn't want presents from Santa, just a reunion with his dad.
Reinscheid was arrested July 24 of last year about 12:40 a.m. in Mason Park. Irvine police, who increased patrols because of the arson fires, came upon Reinscheid as he was trying to start a fire with some newspaper and lighter fluid, Katz said.
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