10 Dec 2008, 10:37pm
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by admin

Another Arson Suspect in Esperanza Fire

By J.P. Crumrine, Idyllwild Town Crier, Dec. 11, 2008 [here]

The defense attorney for accused murderer and arsonist, Raymond Lee Oyler, now has inadvertent support from the federal government for his contention that another more likely person was an arson suspect at the time Oyler was arrested.

The previously undisclosed U.S. Forest Service investigative report was prepared last summer, but it chronicles the events of three prior fire seasons — 2005, 2006 and 2007. During the same period that Oyler is accused of setting more than 20 fires in the Banning Pass — including the Esperanza Fire in which five Forest Service firefighters lost their lives — the Forest Service was actively investigating one of its own employees.

The suspicions about Michael K. McNeil, then a fire investigator for the San Bernardino National Forest, were sufficient enough to warrant placing a tracking device on his government vehicle twice in two years. Suspicions about McNeil began as early as August 2005. By June 2006, a thorough investigation into McNeil’s past work and fire investigation capabilities had begun.

Prosecutor Michael Hestrin would not discuss how he got the report. The District Attorney Office’s Public Information Officer Michael Jeandron confirmed that state and county investigators were aware of the federal concerns about McNeil.

“McNeil was known about and was excluded as a suspect prior to Oyler being arrested,” Jeandron attributed to Hestrin. At least three of the fires for which Oyler is charged for starting were on the list of fires McNeil might possibly have started.

Mark McDonald, Oyler’s attorney, will use the report to argue that McNeil is the real arsonist. Except for the fire devices that contained Oyler’s DNA, McDonald believes this report strengthens his defense. …

In July 2007, McNeil was promoted to assistant district fire management officer on the Lassen National Forest. Subsequently, he was arrested for making terrorist threats and is in a Los Angeles County jail.

McNeil had been a firefighter in Utah and California since 1995. His entire career has been associated with unexplained, mysterious and, perhaps, arson-caused fires. … [more]



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