California man convicted of murdering five firefighters by starting wildfire

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Raymond Lee Oyler of California, United States has been convicted of the murders of five US Forest Service firefighters killed while attempting to control a wildfire he had lit.

Oyler, 38, set the Esperanza Fire out of anger his dog had been impounded, according to prosecutors. The October 2006 blaze destroyed 34 houses and 20 outbuildings, scorching over 17,400 hectares. Prosecutors said he was "bent on destruction".

Prosecutors also alleged Oyler started the fire at night specifically to leave firefighters "on their own" without aerial support. He was identified as the arsonist behind the fire after a security camera saw his car several times and samples taken from the scene matched those found in his girlfriend's house. Oyler, an unemployed car mechanic, was also identified by the owner of a local petrol station as having stood in a car park and watched the fire's spread.

The five firefighters that were killed died when their truck was overrun by the flames. Oyler was convicted of murdering them on Friday March 6 after a six-week trial in Riverside California. The twelve-member jury took nearly a week of deliberation before returning the guilty verdict, and will meet to hear arguments regarding Oyler's sentence on Tuesday. He may face the death penalty.

His defense had admitted Oyler likely started several fires in the Riverside County area, but denied he had started the one that killed the firefighters.


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