A judge on Dec. 3 delayed the murder/arson trial of Ramona businessman James Kurtenbach until May 17, 2010, and also denied motions from his attorney that some of the charges be dropped.
Kurtenbach, 48, who owns Stars Gas station in Ramona, was to have stood trial Jan. 12, but he waived his right to have a speedy trial before El Cajon Superior Court Judge Herbert Exarhos.
The case against Kurtenbach involves the Oct. 31, 2008, fiery death of Joseph Nesheiwat, 24, who worked for Kurtenbach for seven years.
An explosion at Kurtenbach’s vacant house at 16421 N. Woodson Drive was caused by gasoline and Nesheiwat died from terminal burns and smoke inhalation. He was found dead outside the burning house.
Prosecutors have alleged that Kurtenbach hired Nesheiwat to torch the house so the businessman could collect insurance proceeds. The house was insured for more than $900,000 and Kurtenbach had increased insurance coverage on the house twice in 2008, according to previous court testimony.
Kurtenbach’s lawyer, Kerry Steigerwalt, asked the judge to dismiss two arson counts as improperly charged, and sought to have the murder charge and two insurance counts dropped as well. Exarhos denied the motion, but did order the prosecutor to amend the language in one arson count that said the fire took place in an inhabited structure.
Deputy District Attorney Fiona Khalil had previously argued that the house was inhabited in that Nesheiwat was in it before it was set on fire. Kurtenbach is also accused of tax evasion and labor code violations that allege he misrepresented the number of workers he had.
Kurtenbach has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He was arrested shortly before Christmas last year, but posted $2 million bond on Jan. 31 and remains free. He and his family live in Poway.