Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Arson investigator testifies for defense in Esperanza fire trial

David M. Smith testified for the defense on Monday in the trial of Raymond Oyler who is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and starting the Esperanza fire in which five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died in 2006 in southern California.

In the 1970s Smith (shown in the photo from his web site) was a member of the Arson and Bomb Unit with the Tucson Police Department, but in 1981 founded Associated Fire Consultants, Inc. According to his web site, he has given testimony over 170 times and his main areas of expertise are "arson motivations, explosions, and fuel gas matters".

He testified on Monday that he thinks there were two or possibly three arsonists setting fires in the Banning Pass area in 2006 based on the types of incendiary devices used. One device was a single Marlboro cigarette with about six matches set across it at a 90-degree angle. This type of device was used on 10 fires set between June 3 and July 2, 2006.

Another device was a cigarette bound with a rubber band to about 30 wood matches which was used on three fires set on May 16, 2006 and on the October 26 Esperanza fire.

While Smith said it is unlikely that an arsonist would use different types of devices, the prosecutor, Michael Hestrin, suggested that an arsonist's devices might evolve or they may try different devices.

Oyler's DNA was found on two of the cigarettes used on the fires between June 3 and July 2, 2006.

When asked during the trial, Smith said that he has been paid about $5,000 for the work he has done on the case.

It is likely that the trial will go to the jury this week.

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