The FBI has confirmed that Tyler Johnson, a fugitive whom prosecutors considered a co-conspirator in the 2003 fire-bombing of an SUV dealership in West Covina, has died.
According to an obituary posted on the website of the Staffan-Mitchell Funeral Home in Stockbridge, Mich., Johnson died in an avalanche during a solo expedition in the mountains of Corsica.
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FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller confirmed that Johnson's remains have been identified through fingerprints. He and another alleged co-conspirator, Michie Oe, are believed to have fled the country shortly after the environmentally motivated attack.
The obituary states that Johnson spent the last six years on Corsica, during which time he "befriended dozens of people, hiked nearly all 214 summits greater than 2000 meters, and co-founded Solaria, a non-profit association that designs solar technology to power affordable, easily-constructed stoves for residents of third-world countries."
Billy Cottrell, a fellow Caltech student, was tried and convicted for the SUV attack, and is serving an eight-year sentence at a low-security facility in Arizona. At trial, Cottrell's attorneys argued that Johnson and Oe had duped him into participating in the arson spree, but they were prohibited from presenting evidence that Cottrell was vulnerable to persuasion because he suffered from Asperger's syndrome.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned Cottrell's convictions on seven of eight counts, arguing that the trial judge should have allowed the Asperger's testimony. Despite that ruling, the trial judge resentenced Cottrell in December to the same eight-year term. He is due to be released in about 15 months.