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Vote due on $50,000 reward for witness in deadly Esperanza fire

February 8, 2011 | 10:33 am

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on a proposal to award $50,000 to the witness who testified against a man convicted of starting the 2006 Esperanza fire that killed five firefighters.

The supervisors are recommending that half the original $100,000 reward offered by the county be paid to the witness who testified in the 2009 trial of Raymond Lee Oyler. The witness’ testimony was vital in Oyler’s conviction on five counts of murder and 37 counts of arson.

Raymond Lee Oyler, left, with his attorney Mark McDonald in Riverside in June 2009. Officials did not comment on why they were not willing to pay the full amount. The claim to the reward was made last November, officials said.

The name of the witness has not been released for privacy and safety reasons, officials said. According to a staff report recommending the award, the witness was harassed for testifying in the case.

Oyler, 40, of Beaumont, received a death sentence for sparking the fire Oct. 26, 2006, at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains south of Cabazon. In addition to the five members of the U.S. Forest Service killed, the wildfire scorched 43,000 acres and destroyed 39 homes.

Five days later, county supervisors offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist. Outside donors quickly helped the reward grow to $500,000. Oyler was arrested that night.

The witness' testimony gave critical details about statements Oyler made about his plot to start the deadly blaze and earlier acts of arson.


Oyler convicted in arson murders of five firefighters

Raymond Lee Oyler sentenced to death for starting Esperanza fire

-- Nate Jackson

Photo: Raymond Lee Oyler, left, with his attorney Mark McDonald in Riverside in June 2009. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press