Fatal Arson Suspect Planned to Flee?

A Poway man has pleaded not guilty Monday to second degree murder in connection to a house fire and explosion that killed a 24-year-old Ramona man.

Bail has been set at $2-million for 47-year-old James Kurtenbach. He is accused of second degree murder after a fire at a home he owns in Ramona killed 24-year-old Joseph Neishewat on October 31.

Neishewat was an employee at a Ramona gas station owned by Kurtenbach. Watch video: Arson Victim's Mother Wants Answers.

In arguing for a high bail amount, deputy district attorney Fiona Khalil said Kurtenbach had been planning to burn down the home since 2007. She said he increased insurance coverage on the home in February.  Khalil had originally asked for bail set at $3.5 million because she believed Kurtenbach was preparing to flee to Canada, according to the North County Times. Khalil said Kurtenbach's marriage to a Canadian citizen allows him to cross the border without a passport, according to the paper.

She said the victim owed Kurtenbach money. She also said the suspect had previously asked Neishewat and another witness to burn down the house in late 2007.

The prosecutor also said Kurtenbach had a history of harrassing employees and one even took out a restraining order.

She said Kurtenbach was told about the fire at 3:45 a.m., and minutes later sent a text message to Neishewat.

"He texted the victim and he asked the victim if he wanted to blow off the lot at the Star gas station with a leaf blower. This is very unusual because the victim would not have done that in the normal course," she said.

Kurtenbach's defense attorney, Earll Pott,  told reporters, "At worst, this case is an arson that went terribly wrong not through any plan." Pott plans to argue for a lower bail at the next court hearing December 30.

For more details about what happened in court, read this article in the North County Times.

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