- Politics and Social Issues
Death Penalty for Man Who Started California Wildfires
The wildfire that claimed the lives of five brave firefighters in Southern California in October of 2006 was intentionally started. 38-year-old Raymond Lee Oyler was found guilty of arson in connection with the blaze that also destroyed several homes in the Twin Pines community. Oyler's 23-year-old daughter cried as his sentence was handed down by Riverside judge W. Charles Morgan. Death.
Read about the fire here~
The blaze, dubbed The Esperanza Fire, was suspected to be arson early on and Oyler was arrested just five days afterward. The same day the fifth firefighter succumbed to his injuries and died in a hospital bed.
The mood in the courtroom remained somber throughout the trial as the victims' families addressed the jury, one by one, sharing memories of their loved ones as well as their heartbreak at having lost them so senselessly. D.A. Michael Hestrin described the conditions that the imperiled men must have endured during their last moments - temperatures well over one-thousand degrees, 70 foot high flames. Several jurors wept. Even Oyler's own family offered sincere apologies to the slain men's families.
Jury Bias Based on Victims' Occupation?
Oyler himself seems to have accepted his sentence with little surprise, according to his lawyer. He is said to have been depressed for many years, and has been on a steady stream of anti-depressants for most of them. (I'll save my two-cents on anti-depressants for another hub.)
Was this man's fate dealt with more severely on account of his victims being firefighters? You bet. Is this fair? I think so.
Let me first establish that I've always had a bad feeling about the death penalty. Aside from all the wrongful convictions that have resulted in innocent people being killed by their own government, I am not one hundred percent convinced that two wrongs make a right in such situations.
In this case, though, I can't lay an ounce of blame on those who sought death for this man or on those who chose to make it happen.
Killing anyone intentionally is the most wrong thing you can do according to the American justice system (I'm saying this theoretically, as it doesn't always seem so). To take the life of someone who selflessly dedicated their existence to protecting and rescuing others is deplorable perhaps beyond the murder of a civilian. If there is a hierarchy of murder, denoting which factors classify each killing as being more or less ethically awful than another, this crime has to be pretty high up on the nasty list.
Oyler will now reside on Death Row at San Quentin penitentiary until his sentence is carried out. It is unlikely that there will be an appeal.
Esperanza was not the first fire Oyler had set, and his cold lack of remorse during the trial ensured that any who might have otherwise felt some sympathy toward him didn't. He laughed openly after the sentence was delivered.
For the Fallen
I've always had a deep respect for firefighters. It seems that they are born with a slightly different genetic code than the rest of us. That tough exterior with a heart of gold isn't cliche, it really exists in these remarkable people. They have to be this way. Whiny, dramatic, petty types wouldn't make it through training and while these men and women may look intimidating, its kind of a prerequisite for wanting to spend your life saving others that one has a kind heart.
Recently, I watched over a hundred local firemen battle a blazing fire in the building just next door to mine. They saved lives, property, and my home (which had literally been inches away from catching fire). After it all, they were cordial and kind. I would have forgiven them for being gruff and grumpy, but no. They offered me a vehicle to sit in and warm up (it was winter) and were much more friendly than they could have been after breaking their backs saving our behinds for the previous five hours!
So, I'd like to dedicate a bit of this hub to remembering why Oyler's sentence was so swift and harsh. With no disrespect to his family (who are also heartbroken), these are the reasons that not too many will miss him when he's gone.
Jess was 27 years old. Throughout his life he had chosen the road less traveled, always challenging himself and taking on the toughest tasks. Those who knew him said he'd never hesitate to jump in and help out in any situation. His family describes him as "one of the good guys," and will miss his loving nature and sense of adventure. He leaves behind a young wife, Karen.
Daniel was just 20 years old, and loved his job. He had told his mother that he put his heart into his work and was glad to do so. He loved to skate, play video games, and engage in other youthful activities when he was off duty. He had recently gotten engaged to be married to his sweetheart.
At 23, Pablo had been on the job just two years, and planned to become a paramedic. He was proud of his athleticism, lifting weights and playing sports in his free time. He was a driven young man who was his little sister's hero and the apple of his father's eye.
Captain of Engine 57, Mark was 43 and loved to play softball. Everyone knew him as the guy who could do anything; the person you'd want to have by your side in a bad situation. Mark loved the outdoors and often took his wife & five children camping.
"Sweetie, this one looks bad. I love you."
Those were 27-year-old Jason McKay's last words to his fiance as he headed in to fight The Esperanza. Jason had a kind & fun-loving nature and was known to be a bit of a prankster. He was also a very forgiving person. In an early statement, his sister said that Jason would likely have forgiven the arsonist.