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Jury recommends death penalty for arsonist

March 19, 2009 at 7:10 AM   |   Comments

RIVERSIDE, Calif., March 19 (UPI) -- A jury in Riverside, Calif., recommended the death penalty for the man convicted of started the Esperanza Fire in 2006 in which five firefighters died.

The eight-woman, four-man panel deliberated four hours Wednesday before recommending the death penalty for Raymond Lee Oyler, 38, of Beaumont, Calif., who was found guilty March 6 of 42 felony counts, including five counts of first-degree murder, the Redlands Daily Facts reported Thursday.

Prosecutor Michael Hestrin thanked the jurors and investigators, then praised the five firefighters who died protecting residents and their homes, the newspaper said.

"These five men were the best of us," Hestrin said. "We must not forget what they did and the sacrifices that they made, and that their families still endure."

Oyler's daughter, Heather Oyler, said the family plans to appeal the jury's findings, the Daily Facts said.

The Esperanza fire was set Oct. 26, 2006, in Cabazon with a device of matchsticks and a cigarette, the Los Angeles Times reported. Fierce Santa Ana winds whipped the flames up a steep slope in the San Jacinto Mountains.

The fire overran a U.S. Forest Service firefighting crew trying to save a house in a steep valley. The victims were Pablo Cerda, 23; Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20; Mark Loutzenhiser, 43; Jason McKay, 27; and Jess McLean, 27.

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