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Raymond Lee Oyler sentenced to death for starting Esperanza fire

June 5, 2009 |  9:36 am

Esperanza fire photos

Raymond Lee Oyler has been sentenced to death for starting the 2006 Esperanza fire in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains. The fire killed five firefighters, destroyed 34 homes and charred more than 41,000 acres.

The jury had recommended the death sentence.

Judge W. Charles Morgan could have sentenced Oyler to death or life in prison without parole.

OylerOyler, 38, was convicted March 6 of five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device. Prosecutors said the Beaumont mechanic had set fires throughout the San Gorgonio Pass in the summer of 2006 leading up to the Esperanza fire on Oct. 26.

Early that morning, he used a combination of matches and a cigarette to light a fire in a remote area of Cabazon. Gusty Santa Ana winds drove the flames into the San Jacinto Mountains, where they reached speeds of 40 mph and temperatures of 1,500 degrees.

A U.S. Forest Service firefighting crew based in Idyllwild was overrun by flames while trying to save a house. Those killed were Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20; Pablo Cerda, 23; Mark Loutzenhiser, 43; Jason McKay, 27; and Jess McLean, 27.

Oyler's trial lasted more than a month, during which jurors were shown gruesome photos of the dead, some of whom suffered burns to more than 90% of their bodies. But even after seeing and hearing the evidence, and after convicting Oyler of first-degree murder, the jury was hesitant to sentence him to death.

-- David Kelly in Riverside

More Eperanza fire photos

Top photo: A U.S. Forest Service firefighter visits the scene where five of his colleagues were killed on Oct. 26, 2006 by the windblown Esperanza fire's unpredictable flames. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times) Bottom photo: Raymond Lee Oyler in March 2007. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)