Architect Gerhard Becker pleaded no contest this morning to involuntary manslaughter in the death of firefighter Glenn Allen, who died on Feb. 16, 2011, trying to extinguish a blaze at Becker's home.
But Judge Robert Perry showed leniency in his sentence, ordering Becker to serve just one year in county jail — of which he will complete just six months.
Before issuing his decision, Perry picked apart the prosecution's case, focusing on a building inspector who had signed off on Becker's faulty design, and suggesting the inspector had lied under oath.
“He fell down in several regards,” Perry said. “There are significant legal issues if this case were to go to trial.”
Becker and his girlfriend were asleep in the home on Viewsite Drive when the fire broke out. Firefighters who responded struggled to get the fire under control, due to high ceilings and the lack of fire stops within the walls. Once the insulation became saturated with water, the ceiling collapsed on Allen, pinning him underneath 1,000 pounds of wood, insulation and debris. He died the next day.
In the aftermath, investigators traced the cause of the blaze to a faulty indoor fireplace, which had been built from combustible materials. A year later, Becker was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
In an interview with the Weekly last year, Becker said he believed he could make the fireplace safe by covering it with non-combustible tile. He also accused Brad Bescos, the L.A. building inspector who signed off on his house, of lying at the preliminary hearing. Bescos had said that he never saw or approved the faulty fireplace, but photos showed that the fireplace was in place at the time of Bescos' inspection.
“This guy lied like crazy,” Becker said.
Becker also faulted the prosecution for holding him criminally responsible for what he maintained was an honest mistake.
“I understand somebody died, who was trying to save my house. I really appreciate that,” he said. “But to say I was willingly building a trap in my house — it's disgusting.”
Outside court this morning, prosecutor Sean Carney said he was “deeply disappointed” in the judge's decision to sentence Becker to just one year. Carney wanted a sentence of two years, while many of Allen's relatives and colleagues at the L.A. Fire Department pushed for four, the legal maximum.
“I want to see the book thrown at this defendant,” Carney said, calling Becker's conduct “reprehensible” and “morally abhorrent.”
Becker is German, and was living in Mallorca, Spain, before coming to Los Angeles. He has already served about two months in jail. Once he has done another four months, he will be deported.
Allen was just weeks from retirement when he was killed. His widow, Melanie, told the court this morning that he never got the chance to meet his grandson, who was born soon after the fire.
“We did look forward to growing old together,” she said. “My life has been ripped to shreds.”