A judge refused today to reduce the $2 million bail for a Ramona gas station owner accused of arranging to have his rental property burned down by an employee who died when the home near Mount Woodson exploded.
El Cajon Superior Court Judge Charles Ervin rejected an offer by attorney Earll Pott, who said James Anthony Kurtenbach would submit to wearing an ankle monitoring device if allowed to post bail.
Commenting that the charges against the defendant "are very serious," Ervin said he was"very concerned that he (Kurtenbach) may be a flight risk."
Deputy District Attorney Fiona Khalil said the 47-year-old defendant -- a Canadian native who lived in San Diego County for seven years -- was in the process of liquidating his assets when he was arrested.
Pott, however, said his client was doing so on his advice, since it was clear he was about to be arrested and would need money for legal services and to post bail.
"He is determined to defend himself to the utmost against these charges," Pott said of his client. "We believe there is insufficient evidence to have charged him, and certainly for conviction."
Kurtenbach was arrested about two weeks ago in connection with the Oct. 31 explosion that resulted in the death of 24-year-old Joseph Nesheiwat.
Firefighters who responded to the scene found the 4,000-square-foot house aflame and the body of Nesheiwat in the backyard.
After an investigation, Kurtenbach, who owns the Stars Petroleum filling station, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, two arson counts and several counts related to alleged business improprieties.
Nesheiwat, a Ramona resident who had worked for Kurtenbach for seven years, suffered burns over 85 percent of his body and smoke inhalation, the prosecutor said.
County records show that Kurtenbach owed $16,600 in back taxes on his Ramona-area rental property at the time of the fire.
Khalil alleged that Kurtenbach raised the insurance coverage on the house from $680,000 to $900,000. Then, the day before the fire, the defendant switched agents, resulting in an additional $15,000 boost to his coverage, the prosecutor alleged.
The defendant, who lives in Poway, is married to a Canadian citizen who is expecting their first child in February. He has three children from a prior marriage to a woman who has half-ownership of the gas station.
Ervin ordered Kurtenbach to return to court Jan. 13 to set a date for a preliminary hearing.