The Press-Enterprise

Special Section: Esperanza Fire

Attorneys in the Raymond Lee Oyler arson and murder case told the judge Friday that they are on track for a Jan. 5 trial, and estimated its length at eight weeks. Oyler is charged with starting the 2006 Esperanza Fire that killed five firefighters.

Deputy District Attorney Michael Hestrin and defense attorney Mark McDonald also received for review from Riverside County Superior Court Judge W. Charles Morgan copies of the jurist's proposed questionnaire for prospective jurors.

Morgan set the next hearing on Dec. 19 and asked the attorneys to return with any comments on the questionnaire.

Oyler, 38, faces the death penalty. He is charged with 45 counts, including five first-degree murder charges.

Riverside County prosecutors say Oyler started the Esperanza Fire and 22 others from May through October 2006, many of them set with devices made from cigarettes and matches. Court documents say at least two of the devices were linked to Oyler by DNA. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Recently, a confidential report revealed that a U.S. Forest Service fire prevention technician was investigated for arson during 2006 in the San Gorgonio Pass -- the same time and place prosecutors say Oyler set the blazes with which he is charged.

The report says Michael Karl McNeil, 35, "may possibly be associated" with at least four fires that match blazes Oyler is charged with setting.

The report does not directly associate McNeil with the Esperanza blaze. He is currently facing unrelated arson and terrorist-threat charges in Los Angeles County and is jailed on $2.8 million bail. He no longer works for the Forest Service.

Prosecutors said McNeil was considered a suspect after the Esperanza Fire, but evidence they gathered pointed to Oyler.

Reach Richard K. De Atley at 951-368-9573 or

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