updated 3/11/2009 6:22:27 PM ET 2009-03-11T22:22:27

A judge says a man who set a California wildfire that killed five firefighters is mentally competent and the penalty phase of his trial can continue.

Riverside County Judge W. Charles Morgan ruled Wednesday after reading the report prepared by a psychologist who examined the defendant, Raymond Lee Oyler.

The penalty phase of the trial was halted Tuesday after Oyler's attorneys raised concerns about his mental health, saying he was not behaving rationally.

"What began to occur yesterday and continued today I have not witnessed before," said defense attorney Mark McDonald. "It is disturbing to me to have someone sitting here and, either voluntarily or involuntarily, hurting his own cause in front of the jury."

Oyler could be seen fidgeting during proceedings Tuesday morning, as the penalty phase of his trial got under way. His attorneys indicated there was a communication problem, as well.

Morgan ran through a list of seven prescription and non-prescription medications Oyler is taking, including an antidepressant, a pill to control acid reflux, blood-pressure medication and pills to arrest tremors.

Co-counsel Tom Eckhardt told the judge he was concerned Oyler may have had an epileptic seizure over the weekend that triggered the unexplained behavior. Oyler's family has a history of epilepsy, he said.

"Stress apparently can bring on the first event," Eckhardt said.

Deputy District Attorney Mike Hestrin offered to bring in recordings of Oyler's most recent jailhouse phone conversations to give the judge a better idea of whether the defendant is malingering or actually ill.

Morgan assigned court-appointed psychologist Dr. Robert Suiter to evaluate Oyler. The judge read the evaluation overnight. 

Oyler was convicted of murder, arson and other crimes Friday for setting a fire in 2006 that overwhelmed five firefighters as they defended a home in a rural Southern California mountain community about 90 miles east of Los Angeles.

Oyler, 38, could be sentenced to death because the murders were committed with another felony, arson.

The verdicts followed a monthlong trial with testimony by arson investigators, fire experts and several of Oyler's relatives.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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