SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash.-- Federal prosecutors charged a Pullman man accused of burning down an apartment complex with Malicious Use of Fire to Damage Property Used in Interstate Commerce on Wednesday.
Bryan Lee Kitchen, 31, faced a Spokane judge Wednesday afternoon. Kitchen pleaded not guilty to the charge. He faces five to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he is found guilty.
Kitchen was also charged with First Degree Arson in Whitman County for allegedly burning down part of the Grove Apartment complex. A Whitman County judge set his bail was set at $1 million.
Pullman police arrested Kitchen on Monday in connection with the July 14th fire.
Officials said Kitchen had been a person of interest since the morning of the fire when his unoccupied car was seen near the fire scene by police around 2 a.m. the morning of the fire. Detectives said they had talked with Kitchen periodically during the course of the scene investigation.
On the morning of the fire, Kitchen told officers that around 1:30 a.m. on the day of the fire he woke up with a "bad feeling" that something was going to happen where he was working. Kitchen worked for a plumbing sub-contractor at the construction site. He said he went to the construction site because he thought someone had been shot and their body had been buried there.
He admitted he went up to the site and walked around the buildings while smoking cigarettes and using his cell phone. He told officers he was only at the site for 20 minutes and didn't hear or see anything so he went home and "got drunk." Kitchen said he had not been drinking before he went to the site.
On July 16, an officer met Kitchen at The Grove construction site. Kitchen had agreed to show the officer where he had walked the morning of the fire.
He told the officer he had used a lighter to light his walk around the buildings. When the officer questioned Kitchen again about why he decided to come to the site he said he had been drinking at home and got a feeling something bad was going to happen. He admitted he was drunk at the time and he lied earlier because he didn't want to get a DUI.
On July 22, detectives went to talk to Kitchen again at his home. He agreed to speak with detectives and drove himself to the Pullman Police Station.
The detectives asked Kitchen if he would take a polygraph test. Kitchen had said he would do a polygraph each time he talked to officers. Kitchen agreed to take the test.
During the polygraph, the polygrapher asked Kitchen if he set the fire and if he had any participation in setting the fire. Kitchen answered no to both questions. The polygraph concluded that Kitchen was lying.
When detectives confronted him about the results, he admitted he had lied and admitted he had set the fire but stated it was by accident when he had dropped a lit cigarette in a pile of sawdust and wood chips in the E building.
Investigators say that it was not possible for a cigarette to fully engulf the building.
When detectives confronted Kitchen again, Kitchen admitted he had actually lit a pile of debris on the floor on fire. He said he lit the fire because he was cold.
Kitchen told detective he had a 'voice' in his head that told him to do bad things after they asked him why he set the fire. Kitchen said when he drank alcohol he could not control his urge to do bad things.
Kitchen said he had gathered other debris and added it to the fire to make it bigger. He said he watched the fire for about 20 minutes before realizing it was out of control.
He then went home and turned on his police scanner to listen to whether anyone was calling about the fire. Kitchen said he knew he should have called about the fire but he did not want to get caught.
Fire investigators said the fire appeared to have started in the middle of the complex and spread to three other buildings under construction.
The fire destroyed 88 units and burned all four buildings down. The flames were so hot that officials said it cracked windows at a nearby research park 200 yards away. It also melted the siding off of several nearby apartment complexes.
Fire investigators said the fire is the largest and most complicated fire Pullman has experienced in the last 30 years.
The Grove was under construction. Students were set to move into the buildings in August.
Two nearby apartment complexes, Boulder Creek and Steptoe, suffered heat damage to the siding but all units are still usable. Several cars were also damaged by the heat.
Investigators estimated that the fire caused $13 million in damage.