Oyler convicted for Esperanza fire deaths

Raymond Lee Oyler, left, is taken out of Riverside Superior Court after being found guilty on Friday/ Press-Enterprise

A four-man, eight-woman jury today found Raymond Lee Oyler, 38, guilty on 42 of 45 counts against him, including five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device to start fires between May 16, 2006 and Oct. 26, 2006.

Jurors deadlocked on whether he started three smaller wildfires and Superior Court Judge W. Charles Morgan declared a mistrial on those counts.

Here are the verdicts broken down by individual counts (other than the murder charges, some of these are for arson, and others are for using an incendiary device–in some cases two charges for one fire):

  1. Guilty, murder of Mark Loutzenhiser
  2. Guilty, murder of Daniel Hoover-Najera
  3. Guilty, murder of Jess McClean
  4. Guilty, murder of Jason McKay
  5. Guilty, murder of Pablo Cerda
  6. May 16 fire, guilty
  7. May 16 fire, guilty
  8. May 16 fire, guilty
  9. May 29 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  10. May 29 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  11. May 31 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  12. June 3 fire, guilty
  13. June 4 fire, guilty
  14. June 9 fire, guilty
  15. June 10 fire, guilty
  16. June 11 fire, guilty
  17. June 14 fire, guilty
  18. June 14 fire, guilty
  19. June 14 fire, guilty
  20. June 15 fire, guilty
  21. June 28 fire, guilty
  22. July 2 fire, guilty
  23. July 9 fire, guilty
  24. Sept. 16 fire, guilty
  25. Sept 16 fire, guilty
  26. Sept 17 fire, guilty
  27. Oct. 22 fire, guilty
  28. Oct. 26 fire, Esperanza fire, guilty
  29. May 16 fire, guilty
  30. May 16 fire, guilty
  31. May 16 fire, guilty
  32. June 3 fire, guilty
  33. June 7 fire, guilty
  34. June 9 fire, guilty
  35. June 10 fire, guilty
  36. June 11 fire, guilty
  37. June 14 fire, guilty
  38. June 14 fire, guilty
  39. June 14 fire, guilty
  40. June 28 fire, guilty
  41. July 2 fire, guilty
  42. July 9 fire, guilty
  43. Sept. 16 fire, guilty
  44. Sept. 17 fire, guilty
  45. Oct. 26 fire, Esperanza fire, guilty

On the first five counts Olyer was convicted of first degree murder and of special circumstances for “murder in the commission of arson” and for “multiple murders”.

District Attorney Rod Pacheco said the following about the verdicts:

We are obviously satisfied with the verdicts and that the jury was able to sort through the evidence. A substantial amount of justice has occurred, and I hope that this provides a small measure of consolation to the families of the victims.

Oyler was on trial for setting the October 26, 2006, Esperanza fire which burned 41,000 acres near Cabazon, California and resulted in the deaths of the five-person Engine 57 crew from the San Bernardino National Forest. Killed were Capt. Mark Allen Loutzenhiser, 43, Jason Robert McKay, 27, Jess Edward McLean, 27, Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, and Pablo Cerda, 24.

From the LA Times:

After the trial, the sobbing Oyler family hurried to an elevator and left the building. The families of the victims also left without speaking to the media. A U.S. Forest Service spokesman said the families would not speak until after the penalty phases, which will decide whether Oyler gets the death penalty.

Outside the courtroom, Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins praised the verdicts but noted that five firefighters will never come home.

“Their families have suffered a loss that most of us can’t imagine,” he said. “This will not bring complete closure but it will bring the defendant to justice. It will help the families move to another phase of healing.”

Jeanne Wade Evans, supervisor of the San Bernardino National Forest, said arson is a terrible crime that touches so many lives.

“We still feel the loss and we always will,” she said.

At least a dozen current and retired fire personnel filled the left side of the courtroom. They were seated directly behind relatives of the five fallen USFS crew members.

Sentencing, which could include the death penalty for the murder charges, will begin Tuesday when the jury returns for that phase.

****

UPDATE November 12, 2013:

Esperanza Fire Factual Report, and the USDA Office of Inspector General’s Report on the fire.