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Closing arguments on Oyler's fate

March 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Raymond Lee Oyler faces execution or life in prison for setting a fire that killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters in the 2006 Esperanza wildfire.Jurors listen to closing statements Tuesday morning in the sentencing phase of Oyler's trial.

The jury will recommend whether 38-year-old former mechanic from Beaumont will be executed or spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Since early last week, jurors have heard testimony from friends and relatives about the firefighters as well as from Oyler's family and friends.

One of those was Oyler's 21-year-old daughter Heather Oyler, who told jurors her father took care of her when her mother, apparently strung out on drugs, abandoned them.

"He taught me how to ride a bike without training wheels. He taught me how to roller skate. We had fun," Heather Oyler told the jury.

The youngest firefighter of Engine 57 to be killed was 20-year-old Daniel Hoover-Najera.

His 16-year-old sister, Monica Hoover-Ayala told the jury her older brother was fun-loving and always made her smile.

She said, "I always looked up to him, I still do."

Included in the USFS crew, based out of Idyllwild, was Capt. Mark Allen Loutzenhiser, 43, and firefighters Jason Robert McKay, 27, Jess Edward McLean, 27, and Pablo Cerda, 24.

On October 26, 2006, the wildfire swept into the mountain communities of Poppet Flats, Twin Pines, and Silent Valley, charring 41,000 acres and destroying or damaging 54 homes.

All the men but Loutzenhiser and Cerda died at the scene. Loutzenhiser was burned almost beyond recognition. He died less than an hour later. Cerda, who suffered burns over more than 90 percent of his body was in a coma for two days, before his family removed him from life support.

Prosecutors told the jury that Olyer lit the Esperanza Fire about 1 a.m., during a Santa Ana windstorm, when he knew there would be no air support in the middle of the night.

Oyler was also convicted of three dozen counts of arson and possession of incendiary devices connected with 19 other fires in the Banning Pass between May and October 2006.

Oyler's penalty phase was suspended last week when his attorneys told the judge he was strangely.

The judge ordered a psychological exam, but then ruled Oyler did not need psychiatric care and the penalty phase could continue.

The defense has argued that someone else was responsible for starting many of the fires, saying a variety of cigarette and match devices were used to ignite the brushers.

City News Service contributed to this story.


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