By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three people who helped authorities find a fugitive former Los Angeles police officer after he eluded them following a grudge-driven killing spree should split a $1 million reward in the case, a panel of retired judges ruled on Tuesday.
The three-judge panel found that a married couple who were tied up by the fugitive, Christopher Dorner, in their mountain cabin in February, only to break free and call police, should receive 80 percent of the reward.
The judges ruled that a ski resort employee who spotted Dorner's burning truck in the San Bernardino Mountains five days earlier should get 15 percent of the money, while 5 percent should go to a tow truck driver who reported seeing Dorner in a gas station earlier that day.
Dorner, 33, was accused of killing four people in a vendetta against the police force, died on February 12 in a fiery standoff with officers in the mountains above Los Angeles.
Police had narrowed their search to the area surrounding the mountain community of Big Bear on February 7 after Daniel McGowan, an employee of the Snow Summit ski resort, spotted Dorner's truck burning on an unpaved fire road and contacted a sheriff's deputy.
While authorities searched the area over the next several days, Dorner was apparently holed up not far from their command post in a cabin owned by Jim and Karen Reynolds.
The couple returned to their cabin on February 12 and were confronted by Dorner, who tied them up and stole their sport utility vehicle. Karen Reynolds was able to work free of her restraints and contact police.
Dorner made his last stand at a second cabin in the Big Bear area. He engaged in a fierce gun battle with police before shooting himself dead as the cabin burned to the ground. His charred remains were found inside.
Los Angeles police officials, who agreed to let the panel of judges decide who among 12 claimants should receive the reward, said in a statement on the department's website that it would be paid in installments, starting with the first payment on Friday.
A furor erupted after two of the groups that had originally pledged to contribute to a reward for Dorner's capture later wanted to pull their money out because he had committed suicide. The judges ruled, however, that Dorner had effectively been captured when he was surrounded by police in the cabin where he died.
Authorities suspected Dorner of killing a police officer's daughter and her fiancé, and then going on a shooting spree targeting police across Southern California. He killed two officers and wounded two others.
Dorner was fired from the Los Angeles force after an investigation found he falsely reported that a white superior officer had beaten a suspect. In a lengthy rant posted online, he vowed deadly revenge for his dismissal and charged that there was deep-seated, institutional racism in the police department.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson)