BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) _ A man surrendered and pleaded no contest to charges in a fire that killed three students in a University of California fraternity.

Brian Hilton, 23, of Pleasanton, surrendered to authorities Thursday and was immediately arraigned before Berkeley Municipal Court Judge Julie Conger. He pleaded no contest to one count of unlawfully starting a fire and three counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Jim Giller, an Oakland lawyer defending Hilton, characterized his client as a ''good, decent young man who feels very remorseful about this.''

Sentencing was set for April 16 in Alameda County Superior Court. Horton faces up to nine years in state prison, said Stacy Walthall, an assistant Alameda County district attorney.

The fire happened on Sept. 8, while Hilton was visiting a friend who lived at the Phi Kappa Sigma house on the Berkeley campus, Police Capt. Phil Doran said during a news conference Thursday.

Hilton, who was neither a member of the fraternity nor a student, told investigators he accidentally set a living room couch on fire with a butane lighter after a night of bar hopping, Doran said. He mistakenly thought he had patted the flames out and left the house, Doran said.

Police focused their investigation on Hilton after his friend at the fraternity named him as a suspect. Doran said the friend had urged Hilton to turn himself in.