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Penalty phase set in Esperanza fire trial

March 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The man convicted of arson and murder in the 2006 Esperanza wildfire could learn his fate this week.A Riverside jury found 38-year-old Raymond Lee Oyler guilty of first degree murder last Friday for starting the fire that claimed the lives of five federal firefighters near Cabazon in October 2006. Oyler was also found guilty of 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device.

The penalty phase of the trial begins Tuesday. Jurors will recommend whether Oyler will face life in prison or the death penalty.

Riverside County Fire Chief John R. Hawkins told reporters outside the courthouse that he hoped the verdict would console the families of the firefighters killed in the blaze.

"They can rest now knowing that the man responsible will pay for his actions and no one else will suffer as they have," Hawkins said.

Capt. Mark Allen Loutzenhiser, 43, and firefighters Jason Robert McKay, 27, Jess Edward McLean, 27, Daniel Hoover- Najera, 20, and Pablo Cerda, 24, were killed in the blaze.


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