6 Jun 2009

Death sentence for wildfire man

11:34 am on 6 June 2009

A court in southern California has sentenced a man to death for the first-degree murder of five firefighters by starting a forest blaze in October 2006.

Raymond Lee Oyler, 38, a former car mechanic, was convicted of starting the so-called Esperanza Fire in Riverside County as well as numerous other blazes in the county.

The Esperanza raged about 150km east of Los Angeles. A fire engine crew was overwhelmed as it went to protect an unoccupied rural house and five members died.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge W Charles Morgan found that the aggravating circumstances in Oyler's case outweighed the mitigating circumstances.

The BBC reports he was also convicted of 20 charges of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device for a rash of blazes in Riverside in 2006.

The jury recommended the death sentence after a month-long trial. The Los Angeles Times notes Judge Morgan could have sentenced Oyler to life in prison without parole.