Victim's brother says boss had them burn down Mount Woodson home - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Victim's brother says boss had them burn down Mount Woodson home

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EL CAJON (CNS) - The brother of a young man killed in an explosion and fire two years ago testified Wednesday that their boss promised them money and motorcycles if they torched his Mount Woodson home.

John Nesheiwat testified that James Kurtenbach, 49, approached him and his brother, Joseph, and asked them to set fire to a 3,500-square-foot home that he rented out.

Kurtenbach is on trial for second-degree murder, arson, conspiracy to commit arson, presenting a false insurance claim, concealing an event regarding a claim and vandalism.

Kurtenbach, who employed the brothers at a Ramona gas station he owns, never specified how much he would pay the two to burn the house, Nesheiwat testified.

"He threw out different amounts," Nesheiwat said. "He was going to cut us some checks and get us some motorcycles."

Nesheiwat said his family was having financial problems at the time of the Oct. 31, 2008, fire.

He said he was supposed to drive his brother to the house, let him out, then drive a short distance away and await his return. He said he expected Joseph, 24, to simply light some papers on fire and come running out.

Instead, as he waited in his car, he heard an explosion that shook his Nissan sedan.

The blast damaged a neighboring house and sent debris into the street. The Kurtenbach house, which had an estimated replacement value of $915,000, was destroyed.

"I thought he was dead," Nesheiwat testified, referring to his brother. "From what I heard and what I saw, there was no way humanly possible that he could survive."

He said he tried in vain to reach his brother by cell phone before driving home and praying over rosary beads in his driveway.

Firefighters found Joseph Nesheiwat dead in the backyard. He suffered second- and third-degree burns over 85 percent of his body, as well as smoke inhalation.

Kurtenbach called later to tell him of his brother's death, he said. Kurtenbach paid for the funeral and "told me to keep my mouth shut," John Nesheiwat said.

He testified he initially lied to investigators, but got sick of not telling the truth and fingered Kurtenbach. He was given immunity from prosecution for his role in the arson in exchange for his testimony.

Defense attorney Paul Pfingst repeatedly questioned John Nesheiwat's honesty as he compared his varying statements.

"Are you making it up as you go along right now?" Pfingst asked.

"No," Nesheiwat said.

In his opening statement last week, the lawyer told jurors that nothing the brother said can be believed because he was trying to save himself.

Deputy District Attorney Fiona Khalil, in her opening statement, told jurors the defendant twice tried to sell the house after he was divorced. Without selling the first house, Kurtenbach bought another house in Poway when he remarried and was in arrears on both, she said.

He raised his insurance coverage on the Mount Woodson home shortly before it burned down, Khalil said.

Pfingst countered that his client was not behind on payments, but late on his property tax bills.

The insurance policy increased, he said, because Kurtenbach changed carriers after the Witch Creek Fire, which burned near the property a year earlier, the lawyer said.

Kurtenbach faces 21 years and four months in state prison if convicted. Judge Herbert Exarhos is hearing the case.

A separate trial on charges of workers' compensation fraud and tax fraud will be held later, according to the prosecutor.

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