By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona man collapsed in court and died shortly after a jury convicted him of torching his mansion, and police are not ruling out the possibility that he may have taken a fatal substance.
Defendant Michael Marin, 53, collapsed just after a Maricopa County Superior Court jury found him guilty on Thursday of arson of an occupied structure, the Maricopa County Sheriff's office said.
He was taken to St Joseph's Hospital in central Phoenix, where he was subsequently pronounced dead, Captain Brian Lee said.
"The verdict was just handed down of guilty, and within a couple of minutes he apparently collapsed in the courtroom," Lee told Reuters.
"At the time of his collapse, the judge was ordering that he be remanded into our custody ... at that point the deputies escorted him to the hospital, where ... he was pronounced dead," he added.
Video of the sentencing shot by a television pool photographer apparently showed Marin putting something in his mouth minutes before he collapsed, according to news reports.
"There is speculation that he apparently grabbed something and drank it right beforehand, but that's pure speculation at this point," Lee said.
Asked if suicide by poisoning remained a line of investigation, Lee said: "Yes." He added that a medical examiner would carry out a full investigation because of the "suspicious circumstance" surrounding the defendant's collapse.
The Arizona Republic newspaper said Marin had "fashioned a larger-than-life persona," and had reportedly flown aircraft, written books and climbed Mount Everest.
Marin's mansion burned down in July 2009. "Marin couldn't pay his mortgage, so he burned down his house," the newspaper quoted the prosecution as saying.
The newspaper reported that Marin barely escaped by climbing down a rope ladder from the second floor while wearing a scuba tank and diving mask to protect him from smoke inhalation.
Arson investigators found boxes of flammable debris laid end-to-end through the house from the four ignition points, the newspaper reported.
Calls to Maricopa County Superior Court seeking further details were not immediately returned.
(Editing by Carol Bishopric)