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Still no DNA link to fire, lawyer says

Prosecutors' 6,000 pages of discovery have yet to tie suspect to fatal blaze, his attorney contends.

January 27, 2007|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

The attorney for suspected serial arsonist Raymond Lee Oyler said Friday that, among the mounting 6,000 pages of discovery handed over by prosecutors, there is still no evidence that directly links his client to a Riverside County fire that killed five federal firefighters.

Riverside County prosecutors charged Oyler in November with lighting the Esperanza fire at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains west of Palm Springs in October and with igniting 10 other fires in the Beaumont-Banning Pass area last year.

An affidavit filed early in the case suggested prosecutors were trying to establish a link between the earlier fires and the Esperanza fire.

A fire investigator said in the affidavit that Oyler's DNA was similar to that taken from cigarettes used to light fires on June 9 and June 10. The device used to light those two fires -- six or seven wooden matches atop a lighted cigarette -- was similar to one used to light the Esperanza Fire on Oct. 26, the court papers said.

But Oyler's attorney, Mark McDonald, said that the evidence turned over to him -- mostly fire reports, photographs and logs from the 11 fires -- shows that the fires were started in varied ways.

"Some have a few matches around a cigarette, some have a lot of matches, a couple use rubber bands and tape [tying the matches to the cigarette], in some that's not the method used at all," McDonald said Friday after a hearing, noting that at least one fire was started with an open-flame device.

"We're looking at a circumstantial case," McDonald said. "Mr. Oyler would not be linked to Esperanza without the two fires they say they've got the DNA evidence on."

McDonald said previously that investigators had no DNA evidence linking Oyler to the 40,000-acre Esperanza fire. DNA evidence was not collectible at the origin of that fire, he said.

Oyler, 36, an auto mechanic from Beaumont who could face the death penalty if a jury finds him guilty of murder, will appear in a Riverside court March 19 for a two-day preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial.

The deputy district attorney handling the case declined to comment Friday. A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said prosecutors had not made a decision about whether to seek the death penalty.

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