- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

Arsonist convicted of five murders

RIVERSIDE, Calif. | A jury convicted an auto mechanic Friday of murdering five federal firefighters by setting a wildfire that overran them as they defended a home in a rural Southern California mountain community.

Raymond Lee Oyler, 38, was found guilty of five counts of first-degree murder. Because he committed multiple murders and did so while committing another felony - 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device - he will receive a death sentence or life imprisonment without parole in the penalty phase beginning Tuesday.

John R. Hawkins, Riverside County fire chief, told reporters that he hoped the families of the firefighters could “rest now knowing that the man responsible will pay for his actions, and no one else will suffer as they have.”

All of the fires were set in rural Riverside County May 16, 2006. Prosecutor Michael Hestrin told jurors that the variations in the devices showed that Oyler was experimenting with different designs and learning from his mistakes.

Judge lets group help defend gay

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. | A conservative group behind a successful ballot measure banning unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children can help defend the ban in a lawsuit, a judge ruled Friday.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza said he believes that allowing the Arkansas Family Council’s request to help the state defend the law would allow the case to be “fully developed,” saying he was “a firm believer that you can’t be afraid of what someone is going to say.”

Byron Babione, an attorney for the family council, said it had a unique interest in the case because it pushed to get the measure on the November ballot and mobilized volunteers during its successful fall campaign. He noted that Gov. Mike Beebe and state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, both Democrats, opposed the measure, and that Mr. McDaniel’s political action committee gave $1,000 to a group that campaigned against the restriction.

“Nobody really likes to have their interests represented by somebody who doesn’t believe in their cause,” said Mr. Babione, who is senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal organization.

Muslim terrorist gets 16 years

SANTA ANA, Calif. | One of four men accused of plotting terrorist attacks on Jewish and military targets in California has been sentenced to 16 years in federal prison.

Kevin James 32, was sentenced Friday in Santa Ana. He pleaded guilty in 2007 to conspiracy to wage war against the United States.

The U.S. attorney’s office said James formed an Islamic terrorist group while in state prison in 1997.

Prosecutors said two recruits held up gas stations to raise money for attacks on targets that included Los Angeles International Airport, the Israeli Consulate, military bases and Army recruiting centers. They were sentenced last year to prison. A fourth man who initially was found unfit to stand trial will be tried in July.

School uses marquee to beg for supplies

YUMA, Ariz. | “No money - please donate supplies.” That’s the desperate plea an elementary school in Yuma, Ariz., has posted on its marquee.

Carver Elementary School Principal Debra Drysdale said the message is no joke - and it’s working. She estimates that the school has received $500 to $700 in donations from community members, parents and people who just happened to be driving by.

The principal said the funds the school uses to buy office supplies and replace equipment and furniture have been depleted. She said teachers are buying supplies for their classrooms and saving money by shutting off lights and returning district-supplied cell phones.

Stanford lets go most U.S. workers

HOUSTON | The court-appointed lawyer overseeing the assets and operations of Texas billionaire Allen Stanford’s companies told 1,000 U.S. employees Friday their jobs have been terminated and said most of the businesses’ operations will be discontinued.

The cuts represent about 85 percent of Stanford Financial Group’s U.S. employees, U.S. receiver Ralph Janvey said in a statement.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Mr. Stanford, his two top aides and three of his companies with a long-running $8 billion Ponzi scheme involving high-yield certificates of deposit.

A small number of U.S. employees will be retained to help wind down Stanford Financial Group’s operations, Mr. Janvey said.

Stanford’s Houston buildings, where the company has about 500 employees, appeared empty Friday, with parking garages empty and only security guards visible in the lobbies.

Mark Groesbeck, a financial adviser with Stanford in Houston, said he had not heard from Mr. Janvey about the status of his job but there were rumors of a conference call for employees Monday. Stanford employees have not been paid since Mr. Janvey took over the company on Feb. 17. Many have also seen their Stanford accounts frozen by the court, leaving them struggling to pay bills.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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