Attempt made to unseal transcripts in Esperanza Fire murder case

Attempt made to unseal transcripts in Esperanza Fire murder case

15 January 2008

published by

USA — The next hearing in one of Riverside County’s most significant murder cases is no longer closed to the public and will instead address sealed court documents.

Late last month, without explanation, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Prevost canceled a Jan. 25 hearing in the case of Raymond Lee Oyler that Prevost had ordered closed to the public. Attorneys could not say why the hearing was closed.

Oyler, a Beaumont mechanic, is charged with murder and arson in the deaths of five U.S. Forest Service firefighters in the October 2006 Esperanza Fire.

On Monday, The Press-Enterprise filed a motion seeking to unseal transcripts of a conversation between attorneys and the judge that led to the hearing being closed. A hearing on that matter will now be held Jan. 25, according to court records.

The newspaper is also requesting three other documents unsealed, including a confidential correspondence, a letter and a proposed order.

On Oct. 26, 2006, fire overran the Engine 57 crew of Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, of Idyllwild; Jess McLean, of Beaumont; Jason McKay, of Phelan; Daniel Hoover-Najera, of San Jacinto; and Pablo Cerda, of Fountain Valley. They were trying to protect a vacant octagonal home in Twin Pines from the wildfire.

A federal report later concluded that the crew and the U.S. Forest Service committed six serious violations of policy that compromised firefighter safety.

Oyler also faces 23 counts of arson and 17 counts of setting fires with an incendiary device. He has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody.

The district attorney’s office is seeking the death penalty.

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