SANTA ANA (CNS) - A UC Irvine professor who set several arson fires in response to what he called grief and anger over the suicide of his 14-year-old son was sentenced today to 14 years and four months in prison.
Rainer Klaus Reinscheid, 49, of Irvine, set fires between July 4 and July 24 of last year. Several were on the campus of University High School, where his son was disciplined before committing suicide. One fire was at Mason Park Preserve in Irvine, where his son hanged himself, and another at a school administrator's home.
Reinscheid's son had gotten into trouble at school for stealing a snack bar and was told to pick up trash as punishment, Reinscheid's wife told Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett during a sentencing hearing that stretched over three days. The boy had gotten into trouble once before in grade school and was ``humiliated'' when he was given the same punishment and was teased by classmates as ``trash boy,'' his stepmother said.
After his son's March 2012 death, authorities say the defendant wrote violent notes on his computer detailing plans to kill University High School students and administrators. The professor was never charged in relation to those threats, but the evidence was used against him in sentencing, with Deputy District Attorney Andrew Katz seeking an 18-year term.
Prosecutors also presented evidence of Reinscheid's online searches for information about auto explosions and guns and about buying guns, explosives, ammunition and fertilizers, which can be used to make bombs.
Reinscheid was arrested July 24 about 12:40 a.m. in Mason Park. Irvine police, who increased patrols because of the arson fires, came upon Reinscheid as he was trying to start a fire with some newspaper and lighter fluid, Katz said.
He pleaded guilty July 9 to one count of arson of another's property, two counts of arson of a structure and three counts each of arson of forest land and attempted arson, along with a misdemeanor count of resisting or obstructing an officer.
Reinscheid said Tuesday that after about a year in custody, he became a Christian, as did his wife.
``My irrational thoughts and frustration are gone,'' he said. ``I lost my son and then I lost myself. Now I am asking you and so many others to give me and show me mercy.''
Reinscheid said he wanted to be free to try to provide for his family again.
``Please, your honor, let me go back to my son. He's only 7,'' Reinscheid said, adding that his surviving son told his mother over the holidays that he didn't want presents from Santa, just a reunion with his dad.
But Katz said earlier in the hearing that an expert regarded as the ``godfather of arson investigations'' informed his office that Reinscheid is ``as much a danger today as the day he was arrested.''
Arguments from defense attorneys that the fires did not amount to much should not factor in the judge's decision, Katz said.
Reinscheid's wife said her husband turned to alcohol in his grief. Medication, therapy and seminars didn't alleviate the pain, she said.
``Unfortunately, in those dark moments he started drinking,'' Wendy Reinscheid said.
``He also wrote down dark messages'' that were inspired by a therapist's suggestion to write down his thoughts, she said, asking the judge to consider her husband's scientific contributions in the field of pain relief and the mentoring he provided to his students and classmates over the years.
``He was a heartbroken father who did not cope well,'' she said. ``He lost everything.''
Richard Chamberlain, chairman of UCI's pharmaceutical sciences department, where Reinscheid worked, called the defendant a ``truly outstanding scientist'' who was awarded tenure in half the usual time.
Reinscheid was a popular professor who regularly drew high marks from his students, he said.
``Based on the man I know, crimes like these are entirely out of character,'' Chamberlain told the judge. He added that Reinscheid, who is officially on leave, will lose tenure and his ``academic career is over.''