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Firebug Professor Gets 14 Years, Same Age as Late Son

Rainer Reinscheid went on an arson rampage after the suicide death of his 14-year-old son. A judge, who considered his threats to slaughter hundreds of high school students in retaliation, sentenced him to 14 years in prison.

Rainer Reinscheid, earlier this year, in jail for committing a series of arson fires. Photo/Patch Archive
Rainer Reinscheid, earlier this year, in jail for committing a series of arson fires. Photo/Patch Archive

By City News Service

After poring over arguments from both sides, an Orange County judge on Thursday sentenced a former UC Irvine professor who set several non-injury fires in the aftermath of his 14-year-old son's suicide to 14 years and four months in prison.

Rainer Klaus Reinscheid, a 49-year-old German national who was an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, was given credit for 393 days in custody since his arrest, plus another 393 for good behavior.

"It was a difficult, tragic case," Reinscheid attorney Dan Leib said. "The judge appeared to be quite swayed by the impacts on the school, families and community."

Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett said he considered all the statements from victims, including unsent emails Reinscheid wrote about harming University High School counselors and administrators, and from Reinscheid's family and friends.

The judge also noted an unsent email, dated July 12, 2012, in which Reinscheid wrote that those who hurt his son "need to suffer before they die."

The judge also said he considered a statement by a woman who quoted Reinscheid saying "It's all my fault" about a month after his son's death. University High's principal, meanwhile, wrote that the school had been locked down four times in the wake of the suicide and fires, the judge said.

Attorneys for Reinscheid said their client turned to wine and unspecified drugs ordered via the Internet in the wake of his son's March 12, 2012, suicide by hanging in Mason Park Preserve—the same park where his father tried to set a fire and was ultimately arrested.

Reinscheid told the court he lost his son, then himself. But he pleaded for leniency, saying he wanted to return to Germany and care for his wife and 7-year-old son. His lawyers said no one was hurt, and the fires—set between July 4 and July 24 last year—did minimal damage.

Prickett, noting he was guided by a number of sentencing laws, handed down a sentence near the high end of the guidelines. Reinscheid could have gotten as little as three years in prison or as many as 18. The judge said that by pleading guilty, Reinscheid lost most of his appellate rights, but he could appeal if he feels any mistakes were made in sentencing.

Reinscheid's late son, Claas, was caught allegedly stealing something from a snack bar and was told to pick up trash as punishment.

During a sentencing hearing that stretched over three days, Reinscheid's wife, Wendy, told the judge the boy was humiliated.

Reinscheid was never charged with making threats—since his emails were never sent—but the law allowed the evidence to be used against him in sentencing, according to Deputy District Attorney Andrew Katz.

Prosecutors also said Reinscheid started searching the Internet for information about explosives and guns.

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."

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."

Because he is a German citizen, Reinscheid could be deported when he is released from prison.    

TELL US IN THE COMMENTS: Did the professor get what he deserved? Was the punishment fair? How would you have handled it if you were the judge? 

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