Witness: Arson suspect was mad about police killings

AP News
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Posted: May 11, 2016 7:37 PM
Witness: Arson suspect was mad about police killings

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man charged with sparking an inferno that destroyed an unfinished Los Angeles apartment building bragged about the blaze at a party and was angry about high-profile police killings of African-Americans, a witness testified Wednesday.

The testimony came during a preliminary hearing in the arson case against Dawud Abdulwali, the Los Angeles Times reported (http://lat.ms/1ZFflmB ).

Abdulawali, 57, was later ordered to stand trial on charges of aggravated arson and arson of a structure. He has pleaded not guilty.

He has remained jailed since his arrest nearly a year ago and could face up to life in prison if convicted.

Abdulawali is accused of starting the Dec. 7, 2014, fire that gutted the seven-story Da Vinci complex, blew out windows at adjacent downtown office towers and caused $100 million in damage.

The witness, Popaul Tshimanga, said he and Abdulwali attended a party a week later. Tshimanga said Abdulwali ranted about the August 2014 killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

"He was mad," Tshimanga said, adding that the defendant said "he burned the building" near a freeway and "didn't like the way the cops were killing black people."

Abdulwali's former roommate, Edwyn Gomez, has told investigators that Abdulwali spoke passionately about the protests in Ferguson after Brown's shooting and about wanting vengeance.

"Cops kill my people," Gomez recalled Abdulwali saying. "We should go do this, we should go burn some (expletive) down. ... We should go break some windows."

However, Gomez said during the hearing that he didn't remember Abdulwali making those remarks, and he looked upset as a prosecutor played a recording of his conversation with police. Gomez said he didn't know he was being recorded.

Gomez said he felt manipulated and confused by the police, adding that Abdulwali took him in when he was homeless and had "helped me out more than anybody in my life."

He and Tshimanga testified that they didn't go to police about the comments they say Abdulwali made because they didn't think he would actually set fires.

The apartment building blaze didn't kill or injure anyone, but prosecutors say it put people in danger. The flames melted signs on the freeway and cracked more than 100 windows at the nearby headquarters of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar said she found overwhelming circumstantial evidence to require Abdulwali to stand trial.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/