A jury convicted a man accused of trying to influence jurors during the trial of his brother-in-law, convicted arsonist and murderer Raymond Lee Oyler.
Christopher Vaughn Hillman, 48, was charged with seven counts of jury tampering and could be sentenced to seven years in state prison if convicted. He’s free on $250,000 bail.
After five days of testimony, jurors went behind closed doors Tuesday afternoon to begin weighing Hillman’s fate.
Last week, the defendant’s attorney, Nancy Lord, told City News Service her client “had absolutely nothing to do with (jury tampering). He just plain didn’t do it.”
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office alleges that in late February 2009, during Oyler’s two-month trial, Hillman placed fliers of newspaper articles about the case on numerous vehicles in county parking spaces reserved for jurors in downtown Riverside.
The articles concerned Judge W. Charles Morgan’s decision to bar the defense from introducing evidence of possible third-party culpability in the case.
Oyler’s attorneys had wanted to argue that a former federal firefighter could have started some of the fires blamed on the former Beaumont mechanic.
During a search of Hillman’s Hesperia residence, investigators found what appeared to be the original two-page document used to make the photocopies left on jurors’ vehicles, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
At Hillman’s March preliminary hearing, Deputy District Attorney Timothy Cross also introduced evidence showing that fingerprints recovered from four of the fliers matched Hillman’s prints.
Lord said they were palm prints. She said her client was driving home in his pickup truck on Interstate 15 when he discovered the fliers, several of which blew into his face.
“Somebody put those leaflets in his truck,” she said.
Three Oyler jurors discovered fliers on their windshields during the arsonist’s trial, and sheriff’s deputies located fliers on other vehicles parked in the same general location, according to court papers.
Hillman was arrested last August, roughly five months after Oyler was convicted of igniting the 41,000-acre Esperanza wildfire, which killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters trying to defend a home near Idyllwild on Oct. 26, 2006.
Oyler also was convicted of lighting around two dozen other fires in the Banning Pass that year and was sentenced to death.