RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) -- The man charged with setting a 2006 wildfire that killed five federal firefighters lit the blaze in a misguided attempt to regain custody of his 2-year-old daughter, according to testimony from his fiancee.
Crystal Breazile took the witness stand Monday in the case against Raymond Oyler, followed by Oyler's second cousin who testified that the 38-year-old auto mechanic also spoke of "setting the mountain on fire" to create a diversion and free his impounded pit bull.
Oyler has pleaded not guilty to five counts of first-degree murder and using incendiary devices made of wooden matches and cigarettes to set nearly two dozen fires, including the deadly Esperanza fire. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
Breazile, who had her own daughter with Oyler in 2006, testified that Oyler told her he was setting fires "to make it look like someone else did it, with a cigarette and match."
She told prosecutor Michael Hestrin that Oyler was trying to regain custody of a daughter from a previous relationship. Oyler told her he hoped the fires would get blamed on his relatives who had custody, Breazile testified.
But Breazile said several times she did not recall statements she made in a Nov. 1, 2006, interview with detectives shortly after Oyler's arrest. At the time, Breazile told authorities she suspected Oyler was an arsonist and had threatened to leave him if he kept setting fires. She also told detectives that Oyler had considered "setting the hill on fire" as a diversion to free his impounded pit bull from a Banning animal shelter.
"Even reading it, I really don't remember saying it," Breazile said after reviewing a transcript of the 2006 interview provided by Hestrin.
Jurors also heard from Oyler's second cousin, Jill Frame.
Frame testified that in the days before the deadly blaze, Oyler talked of "setting the mountain of fire" to free his dog.
Oyler's attorney, Mark McDonald, challenged Frame's account and asked her if she had turned her cousin in for the $500,000 reward. He said Frame had told her mother that "with the reward money and everything, well, Mom, I'm going to call and turn Raymond in."
Frame said she made the comment as a joke and didn't decide to call authorities until later.
She has testified that she hasn't filed a claim for the reward.
Information from: The Press-Enterprise, http://www.pe.com
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