VAN NUYS – A former Marine pleaded no contest March 5 to setting a string of fires to vehicles and motor homes in North Hollywood in the summer of 2011, the District Attorney’s office announced.
Kurt Kaye Billie, 35, also admitted being convicted of arson in Okinawa, when he was stationed there in 2001, said Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney with the Target Crimes Unit.
The Okinawa case became an international incident when the U.S. military initially refused to hand over Billie, then a lance corporal stationed at Camp Hansen, to Japanese authorities. He was given a five-year jail sentence for a series of arson attacks that included a restaurant and a bar.
Presiding Judge Soichi Hayashida said in handing down the ruling, ”He committed arson to escape from reality after indulging himself in drinking alcohol. He must bear heavy criminal responsibility as he committed the vicious crime out of selfish and outrageous reasons.”
Crimes committed by U.S. servicemembers, particularly in Okinawa, have long been a source of friction in U.S.-Japan relations.
Billie returns to Los Angeles Superior Court in Van Nuys on May 6 for sentencing before Superior Court Judge Michael Jesic. He will receive 10 years to life in prison, Carney said.
Billie pleaded no contest to two counts of arson of an inhabited structure and one count of aggravated arson. As part of his plea, he admitted setting all 21 fires to vehicles and motor homes on July 21, July 24 and Aug. 2, 2011, in the North Hollywood area. Some of the fires spread to adjacent inhabited structures, including apartment buildings.
A restitution hearing will be held at a later date. In exchange for his plea, the remaining 18 felony arson counts will be dismissed when he is sentenced.
The case was investigated by Los Angeles Police and the Los Angeles City Fire Department’s Arson Division.