Arsonist convicted over deadly Aus fires
Melbourne - A one-time volunteer firefighter
was convicted Tuesday of starting a huge blaze that killed 10 people during
Australia's horror 2009 "Black Saturday" inferno.
Brendan Sokaluk, 42, was found guilty of 10
counts of arson causing death by a Victoria Supreme Court jury over a 36 000-hectare
bushfire in the town of Churchill on February 7, 2009, which razed 156 homes
and killed 10 people.
He faces a maximum 25-year jail term on each
of the counts, and his conviction makes him Victoria state's worst killer.
Sokaluk, once a volunteer with the Country
Fire Authority, admitted starting the fire but told police he had dropped
cigarette ash out of his window and it had been an accident.
The month-long trial heard that Sokaluk, who
has autism and a mild intellectual disability, had been seen in the area by
witnesses but gave conflicting stories about his movements that day.
He was charged soon after the so-called
"Black Saturday" disaster, a series of simultaneous fires which raged
in extremely high, dry and windy conditions, destroying more than 2,000 homes
and killing 173 people.
It was Australia's deadliest natural disaster
of modern times.
Sokaluk has only been linked to the Churchill
blaze but became the focus of intense public emotion over the firestorm and had
to be held in isolation after threats were made against him and his family.
He was remanded and will be sentenced at a