Trial begins Wednesday in businessman's arson-for-hire case - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Trial begins Wednesday in businessman's arson-for-hire case

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The case against a gas station owner accused in a deadly house explosion in Ramona is moving forward. Opening statements begin Wednesday in the murder trial of James Kurtenbach.

With his defense attorney Paul Pfingst by his side, James Kurtenbach declined to comment to News 8 on the eve of his murder and arson trial.

The 49-year-old faces felony charges stemming from an Oct. 31, 2008 fire that destroyed a 4,000-square-foot Ramona home that he owned.

Prosecutors say the Poway man, who has pleaded not guilty, orchestrated a plan where he allegedly gave Joseph Nesheiwat gasoline and sent him to torch the Mount Woodson Drive home so Kurtenbach could collect more than $915,000 in insurance money.

Nesheiwat, 24, who worked at Kurtenbach's Stars Gas Station near downtown Ramona, was killed in the blast and fire. His body was found in the backyard of the vacant home. The medical examiner says he died of severe burns and smoke inhalation.

The prosecutor says Kurtenbach was told about the fire at 3:40 a.m. and that there was a body on the premises before the victim had been identified. The deputy district attorney says the defendant made two suspicious text messages to Joseph Nesheiwat 12 to 15 minutes later.

Recently Kurtenbach got a legal break when Judge Herbert Edwards ruled that charges involving his service station accounting be heard at a separate trial. He owed the state more than $3 million in back sales taxes. Other counts involved worker's compensation insurance and labor code violations.

Prosecutors argued the charges show a financial motive for the arson. Also, property records show Kurtenbach has been trying to sell his Poway mansion since January for just over $2 million.

The estate features a large swimming pool with a grotto-style spa and waterfall, two palapas, a guest house with attached garage and private veranda. Kurtenbach bought the eight-year-old house in 2006 for $2.6 million.

Prosecutor Fiona Khalil will begin her opening statements starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Then we will hear from Kurtenbach's attorney, former district attorney Paul Pfingst.

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