By Dana Feldman
NEWPORT BEACH, California (Reuters) - A California professor accused of setting a string of fires following his son's suicide pleaded not guilty to arson on Wednesday, and his lawyer said a rambling, violent email threat to carry out a shooting rampage was a form of self-therapy.
Defense attorney Ron Cordova entered a not-guilty plea on Reinscheid's behalf to all 10 charges against him -- eight counts of arson, one of attempted arson and one of resisting arrest. He has not been charged in relation to the emails.
Reinscheid was arrested last month by police who said they found him trying to set a fire in the Irvine park where his 14-year-old son, Claas Stubbe, had hanged himself in March after an administrator at his school disciplined the boy for stealing.
The April 28 email in question, discovered after his arrest, described in graphic, lurid terms a plan to burn down his son's high school, kill administrators there, commit various sexual assaults and then take his own life. He wrote about obtaining a "dozen machine guns" to "shoot at least 200 students."
Prosecutors cited the email, which Rainer Klaus Reinscheid composed and sent himself under the subject line "a good plan" as evidence that he posed a danger to the community, and a judge agreed, denying a request for bail.
The case came amid jitters over U.S. gun violence in the aftermath of a movie house shooting rampage near Denver in which a former University of Colorado graduate student from California is charged with killing 12 people and wounding dozens of others.
Prosecutors have said they did not charge Reinscheid, who taught pharmaceutical sciences at the University of California at Irvine, in connection with the email threat because he did not send it to would-be victims named in his electronic message.
The professor's lawyer argued in court that the email was merely Reinscheid's way of venting his deep grief and anger over his son's death.
"He was engaging in a therapeutic exercise, purging himself of these thoughts, a means by which we cleanse ourselves of these thoughts," Cordova said. "Such homicidal ideation is very common, even in normal people. He was a man in pain."
Reinscheid sat silently behind a caged partition for most of the hearing, which lasted about 10 minutes, but stood when Judge Karen Robinson addressed him. He appeared calm and showed no visible emotion.
Cordova also noted that Reinscheid said in the email that he was writing the message while drunk and under the influence of a drug prescribed for sleep disorders.
Orange County District Attorney Andrew Katz countered that the email demonstrated violent intent and said a search of Reinscheid's computer showed he had conducted dozens of Internet searches for information about guns, gun laws and explosives.
"We don't believe these are just the rantings and musings of a grieving father," Katz told reporters after the hearing. "These threats need to be taken seriously."
Reinscheid was recently granted a leave of absence from the school, about 50 miles south of Los Angeles, Katz said. He described the professor in court as a German national but later said he knew nothing further of his immigration status except that Reinscheid had lived in the United States for 13 years.
The next hearing in the case was set for September 6, and Cordova said after the proceedings that he believed his client to be of sound mind.
"If I didn't, we'd have entered a different plea or requested the intervention of a court-appointed mental health professional," he told Reuters. "I have no doubts of his mental health."
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and M.D. Golan)