A man convicted of murdering five firefighters by igniting a wildfire got thrills from committing arson, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday in penalty phase arguments.
"He chose this because he liked it," Riverside County prosecutor Michael Hestrin said. "He gets a thrill from it, from starting fire after fire, from seeing people scramble around, having this feeling of being all powerful."
Raymond Lee Oyler, 38, could face the death penalty. Earlier this month, the jury convicted the auto mechanic of five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device.
Over the last week, prosecutors have shown jurors graphic photos of the firefighters' bodies. Relatives of the victims, firefighters and members of Oyler's family have testified.
"By his action, he got to terrorize and cause fear and anxiety in an entire community," the prosecutor said.
The fatal Esperanza Fire
Oyler was convicted of setting numerous fires in rural areas of Riverside County in 2006. The fatal blaze, known as the Esperanza Fire, roared to life that October as fierce Santa Ana winds swept through valleys and mountains about 90 miles east of Los Angeles.
The crew of San Bernardino National Forest Engine 57 was overwhelmed after deploying to protect an unoccupied house perched at the top of a steep drainage in the San Jacinto Mountains.
Three firefighters died there and a fourth died soon after at a hospital. The fifth died five days later, the same day Oyler was arrested.
Some 10,000 people attended the memorial service for Jason McKay, 27; Jess McLean, 27; Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20; Pablo Cerda, 23, and their captain, Mark Loutzenhiser, 43.
Defense attorneys had said Oyler probably set some of the fires but not the one that killed the firefighters.
Last week the defense requested a mental evaluation after noticing a change in Oyler's behavior after the verdict, but Judge W. Charles Morgan ruled him mentally competent after an evaluation by a psychologist.