Courtroom - Photo courtesy of David Veksler on Unsplash

A felon accused of intentionally setting a fire at a Riverside homeless encampment that burned a man whom authorities allege the defendant was trying to kill pleaded not guilty Tuesday to attempted murder and other charges.

Joseph Wayne Breyer, 42, of Riverside, was arrested last month following a joint investigation by the Riverside police and fire departments.

Along with the attempted murder count, Breyer is charged with arson causing great bodily injury and a sentence-enhancing allegation of being a repeat arsonist.

The defendant was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Sean Crandell, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for July 7 at the Riverside Hall of Justice and ordered that Breyer be held in lieu of $1 million bail at the nearby Robert Presley Jail. He was previously being held without bail.

According to the Riverside Police Department, about 7:30 a.m. April 15, Breyer was in a homeless encampment in the 5700 block of Van Buren Boulevard, just south of Riverside Municipal Airport, when he allegedly intentionally ignited the fire near a transient sleeping at the location.

The flames burned the victim’s legs before he was able to get up and flee to safety, according to investigators.

Fire crews reached the site within a few minutes and contained the blaze to a confined space within the encampment. No structures were damaged.

Paramedics treated the burn victim, whose identity was not disclosed, after which he was transported to Riverside Community Hospital for additional treatment of moderate injuries, officials said.

The man is still recovering.

Police detectives and municipal arson investigators worked the case together, and less than a week later, Breyer was identified as the alleged arsonist, according to police spokesman Officer Ryan Railsback.

He said Breyer was taken into custody without incident on Van Buren and interviewed by the investigative team, culminating in his being booked into the downtown jail.

A possible motive for the attack was not disclosed.

According to court records, Breyer has prior convictions for arson resulting in property damage, felony vandalism and possession of controlled substances. Records show that he has been charged multiple times with parole or probation violations over the last decade, but the charges have consistently been dismissed.

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