Witness: Arson Suspect Plotted Explosion Before

The preliminary hearing in the case against local businessman James Kurtenbach is taking place inside an El Cajon courtroom

If in fact James Kurtenbach conspired to burn down his own rental property as prosecutors argue, witnesses testified in an El Cajon courtroom Thursday that he had made similar plans before.

The Poway businessowner is charged with second-degree murder in connection with an explosion and the death of his employee in Ramona on October 31.

Joseph Neishewat, 24, died in the blast. He was an employee at a Ramona gas station owned by Kurtenbach. Watch video: Arson Victim's Mother Wants Answers.

Guido Peracca, 21, testified about a conversation he had had with Kurtenbach's son Justin four days after the explosion.

Justin told Peracca that he was asked by James Kurtenbach to set the house on fire, but that he wasn't willing to be a part of that.

Peracca also said the conversation happened at the Neishewat home, while people were gathered there to mourn Joseph's death.

Also Thursday morning, Peracca testified that James Kurtenbach asked him to dump some gasoline and light a match at Bolero - a gas station nearby to, and in competition with Kurtenbach's.

Kurtenbach muttered "bullshit" while Peracca was giving this testimony.

Neither the Neishewat family, nor the prosecutor wanted to comment to NBCSanDiego.

But defense attorney Kerry Steigerwalt did, dismissing the testimony and saying it wasn't damaging.

Steigerwalt said the comments that Kurtenbach made, about blowing up the other gas station or his house, were made in jest and frustration and not with any degree of sincerity.

Neishewat's family is in court for the preliminary hearing and were visibly upset Tuesday when Glenn Wagner, chief medical examiner for San Diego County, testified of the cause of Neishewat's death.

Wagner testified that 85-percent of Neishewat's body was covered with burns. Only remnants of a shirt collar and a sock and shoe were left after the explosion.

Prosecutors allege that Kurtenbach had been planning to burn down the home since 2007 and had increased insurance coverage on the home in February 2008. 

The victim owed Kurtenbach money, according to prosecutors who also believe Kurtenbach had 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.

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

Kurtenbach's defense attorney, Earll Pott,  told reporters in pre-trial interviews, "At worst, this case is an arson that went terribly wrong not through any plan."

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