The mother of convicted arsonist Harry Burkhart is using social media to lobby for the innocence of her son from faraway Germany.
Dorothee Burkhart, who lives in Berlin, has created a website and sent blasts of emails, including to WEHOville and Los Angeles news organizations, offering unsubstantiated evidence that her 25-year-old son did not commit more than 40 acts of arson, including at least four in West Hollywood, between Dec. 30, 2011, and Jan. 2, 2012.
Harry Burkhart was convicted in September 2016 of 25 counts of arson of property, 18 counts of arson of an inhabited dwelling and two counts each of possession of an incendiary device, attempted arson and arson of a structure. Nineteen of those arsons occurred at buildings where people were asleep at night. While there was significant damage to buildings and cars, no one was injured.
Burkhart pled not guilty by reason of insanity, but the jury deadlocked on whether he was insane when he committed the crimes. Burkhart could have faced nearly 89 years in state prison if jurors found he was sane at the time of the crimes or been sent to a state mental hospital if he was found to have been insane.
Dorothee Burkhart’s emails, social media posts and faxes are focused on a second trial to determine the sanity of her son that currently is underway.
“The Insanity Trial of my son Harry Burkhart runs NOW in the Clara Chortridge Criminal Justice Center Los Angeles, 210 W. Temple Street, Los Angeles. But Judge Mr.Lomeli prevents any effort to bring the documentation and true information about the real arsonists and innocence of my son Harry Burkhart to the Jury and public,” Dorothee Burkhart said in a message to WEHOville. “Judge Lomeli invited NO ONE of witnesses of Harry Burkhart for his defense. Public Defender S. Schoenfield fights against me and my son, he try to bring my son to jail for 23 years, instead to defend him. Judge Lomeli spent $1 700 000,00 (one million seven hundred thousand) dollars of American taxpayers money, since 6 years, for covering the real arsonists and keeping my poor innocent, very ill son Harry Burkhart – he has cancer, still in investigation arrest, without the sentencing.”
Burkhart, who had sent other similar messages, referenced a website created to support her son. On that site she offers her own evidence of her son’s emotional problems.
“The insanity of my son begun in Los Angeles in year 2011, after I bought him a PLAYSTATION II,” Burkhart writes in somewhat fractured English. “My son was 22 years old and couldn’t have contact to anyboidy because of his mentally illnesses and Autism, he was very lonely, depressiv. I thought, that with playstation he will have lot happyer. Then I bought him a computer and shown him how to use the internet. I hoped, that my son maybe could find some friends at least through the computer. But everything gone not good. My son was on playstation and computer lot of time. I rented him own room by my nighbour Galina Illarionova. When I visited him there, he was very exided, had red eyes and spoke some creasy things. He shown me some games, but they were not nice, noot good. My son begun to fantasize. He was more and more alone with his playstation and computer. He didn’t want spend time with me. By lunches and diners togetner he was always in his fantasyworld and couldn’t distinguish what is real, what is fantasy. I was whole time explaning him what right what wrong.”
The S. Schoenfield she mentions in her message to WEHOville is public defender Steve Schoenfield, who is representing Harry Burkhart.
Despite Dorothee Burkhart’s allegations, Schoenfield has argued in Burkhart’s defense that the fires may have been committed by others. After the conviction, he has argued that Burkhart is mentally ill, noting that he was hospitalized at the age of 10. If the jury is convinced of that, Burkhart is likely to be put into a mental health facility rather than face as many as 89 years in prison.
“Overall it paints the picture of a severely mentally ill and developmentally disabled person,” Schoenfield said of evidence introduced in the current trial. “But most significantly, Harry was in a psychiatric hospital just four months before the arsons.”
Other witnesses have cited Burkhart’s mother, described by one as toxic, as evidence of Burkhart’s mental problems.
Dorothee Burkhart and her son and daughter lived in Germany after they escaped Chechnya in 1994 during the Russian invasion. She fled Germany after she was convicted in 2007 on 19 counts of fraud and embezzlement. Burkhart went to Vancouver, Canada, in 2007 and summoned her son to join her there. They came to Los Angeles illegally in 2010 and moved into West Hollywood’s Russian-speaking community.
In 2016, Dorothee Burkhart was arrested and faced deportation to Germany. The night of her arrest is when Harry Burkhart is alleged to have started the fires. He was arrested in the early morning hours of Jan. 2, 2016, by a reserve deputy with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station.
In a phone call from jail, Harry Burkhart said “I want to roast America. I cannot remain calm,'” according to a transcript introduced in his 2016 trial.
Burkhart has served her 19-month sentence in Germany but cannot return to the United States because he is on the “Do Not Fly List” because of passport fraud.