SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – A California professor who set a series of fires after his teenage son committed suicide and whose private emails described a graphic plan to attack the boy’s school was sentenced Thursday to more than 14 years in prison.
University of California, Irvine, pharmaceutical sciences professor Rainer Reinscheid, 49, pleaded guilty last month to six counts of arson, three counts of attempted arson and resisting or obstructing an officer.
Prosecutors sought the maximum sentence of 18 years for the German national, who claimed he was out of his mind with grief when he set fires at University High School in Irvine, a school administrator’s house and the park where his 14-year-old son hanged himself.
The boy had been disciplined for allegedly stealing at the school store.
Reinscheid was sentenced to 14 years and 4 months in state prison but will serve about half that time with credits for time served and good behavior.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett said Reinscheid’s lack of criminal history and role in the community were outweighed by the emotional impact on students and staff at the school and what appeared to be pre-meditation.
“I go back to the impact this had on non-mentioned students … students who, just by the fact these acts were occurring, suffered emotional injury,” he said.
“There were days, if not weeks that passed between acts during which the defendant had the chance to think, to ponder, to reflect.”
Reinscheid, who was dressed in a white shirt and khakis, removed his glasses and drew his hand over his face as the sentence was pronounced.
His attorney, Dan Leib, said outside court that Reinscheid deeply regretted his acts.
“He’s been through a lot and it’s a tragedy,” Leib said. “Being locked up for a year, he’s been able to reflect and think about things and deal with his grief.”
Emails were seized from Reinscheid’s account addressed to himself and his wife outlining a plan to attack the high school campus, commit sexual assaults and burn down the school before killing himself, though no charges were filed related to those emails.
Addressing the judge earlier in the week, Reinscheid said he was so grief-stricken after his son killed himself that he wrote and did things he would not normally do.
He pleaded with the judge for a lenient sentence and apologized repeatedly.
Reinscheid said he wanted to return to his native Germany and find work to support his family and care for his younger child, acknowledging his academic career is over. He is on unpaid leave from UC Irvine.
“I lost my son, and then I lost myself,” Reinscheid told the court. “Now, I am asking you, your honor, and many other people, to forgive me and show mercy.”
School officials and teachers, however, said the series of fires Reinscheid set _ and the emails seized by authorities that described his plan to buy machine guns, shoot students, commit sexual assaults and burn the school before killing himself _ terrified the 2,800-member campus.
Reinscheid’s wife, Wendy, told the court she and her husband were encouraged to write down their thoughts by a therapist to help them confront negative feelings after the boy died.
The judge, however, didn’t buy that explanation for the emails.
“He’s incredibly specific in his actions,” the judge said of what’s described in the emails. “I’m struggling with that.”
Reinscheid has worked at UC Irvine for about a dozen years researching molecular pharmacology and psychiatric disorders, including studies of schizophrenia, stress, emotional behavior and sleep.
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