PHOENIX - Moments after attorney Michael Marin was pronounced guilty of arson in Maricopa County Superior Court
on Thursday, the one-time high roller went into convulsions and collapsed.
By the time paramedics got him to the hospital, he was dead.
Investigators suspect he poisoned himself rather than face a possible 15¾ years in prison. Video of the sentencing shot by a television pool photographer appears to show Marin putting something in his mouth in the seconds after the verdict was read.
A Maricopa County Sheriff's Office
spokesman confirmed that detectives are considering poison as the cause of death.
Marin, 53, had fashioned a larger-than-life persona. Tall and distinguished, he had a law degree from Yale University
and had scaled Mount Everest, Mount McKinley, and four other continental highpoints. He flew planes and wrote books. He owned a mansion full of fine art in the ritzy Biltmore Estates neighborhood of Phoenix
. He had amassed a small fortune -- and lost it.
His mansion caught fire in July 2009. Marin said he barely escaped by climbing down a rope ladder from the second floor while wearing a scuba tank and diving mask to protect him from smoke inhalation.
But inside, arson investigators found boxes of flammable debris laid end-to-end through the house from the four ignition points, as if to feed the blaze. Marin was charged with arson of an occupied structure.
"Michael Marin couldn't pay his mortgage, so he burned down his house," Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Chris Rapp said in opening statements of the trial on May 21.
Rapp laid bare Marin's dire financial straits. In the year before the fire, his bank account shrank from $900,000 to just $50. He had a monthly mortgage of $17,250 on the mansion with a balloon payment of $2.3 million coming due. In addition, Marin paid another $2,500 per month on a more modest home in Gilbert
-- where Rapp said he actually lived -- and had an overdue tax bill of more than $34,000.
Marin tried to set up a raffle to pay off the loan, but it was deemed illegal by law enforcement and shut down. Then the house burned.
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Here are excerpts from his profile from the Arizona International Mountaineering Club
I'm an Everest summiteer on a quest to reach the highest point on each continent. I've only got Vinson in Antarctica left to complete the seven summits. I've also been on a bit of a state highpointing binge.
What are some of your favorite or most notable mountains you have climbed?
I reached the summit of Everest in 2009 with Alex Abramov's 7 Summits expedition. I've also climbed Denali (also known as Mt. McKinley) in Alaska (the highest point in North America), Aconcagua in Argentina (the highest point in South America), Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (the highest point in Africa), Elbrus in Russia (the highest point in Europe), and Kosciouszko (the highest point in Australia). My attempt to climb the Carstensz Pyramid in Papua was a glorious failure that ended with tribal warfare, broken ribs, and a medevac helicopter ride.
What mountains would you like to climb in the future?
I'd like to climb Vinson in Antarctica to complete my seven summits quest. I'm also planning to climb the highest mountain in Wyoming (Gannett), Washington (Rainier), and Montana (Granite) in the very near future. (Update: I made it to the top of Gannett (7-23-11), Rainier (7-29-11), and Granite (9-20-11). My climbing partner bonked half-way up Gannett and Rainier, so those ended up being solo efforts. Granite was a solo climb from beginning to end. I'd sure like to find some capable climbing partners for these adventures. Mountains like Gannett, Rainier, and Granite are sketchy enough without going solo.)