Friday, November 03, 2006

Murder charges to be filed in Esperanza fire

By Maeve Reston and Michael Muskal, Times Staff Writers
2:31 PM PST, November 2, 2006

Raymond Lee Oyler, a 36-year-old car mechanic, was accused today of starting the Esperanza wildfire and faces arson and murder charges in connection with the nation's deadliest blaze for firefighters in more than a decade.

Oyler, who was already in custody and accused of setting two smaller fires in the same area of Riverside County, appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

He was held without bail and is to return to court Dec. 15.

According to the complaint, Oyler faces five counts of murder, 11 counts of arson and 10 counts of using an incendiary device. He is accused of setting fires from June 7 to Oct. 26, the date of Esperanza fire.

The complaint also alleges two special circumstances, murder during an arson and multiple murders.

The charges could lead to a capital punishment case, but Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco said at a morning news conference that his office will consult with friends and families of the slain firefighters before deciding on whether to seek the death penalty.

If convicted, Oyler could face at least life in prison without parole.