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Murder suspects to plead guilty

Defendants are accused of beating to death a man who gave them a ride near Applegate Lake in May 2002

Prosecutors say two accused murderers will plead guilty to killing a Grants Pass man last year rather than stand trial.

Erik Lewis Tester and Shane Almus Martin are scheduled to appear in Jackson County Circuit Court Feb. 14 where they will enter their pleas and be sentenced. The two avoided the possibility of facing the death penalty by agreeing to a negotiated plea with the Jackson County District Attorney's Office, said Allan Smith, deputy district attorney.

Smith didn't release the specific charge to which the pair would plead guilty.

Tester and Martin, both 23, were arrested on May 30, 2002 on allegations that they beat 38-year-old Eric Michael Trayer to death near Applegate Lake after he gave them a ride in the back of his pickup. Sheriff's department officials said that Trayer died after he was repeatedly kicked, punched and hit with cans of beer and other objects. Both men had been drinking at the time of the attack, sheriff's officials said.

Trayer reportedly picked up the two men on Upper Applegate Road where their car had broken down the night of May 29. An argument broke out around midnight, and a woman riding with Trayer told the hitchhikers that they had to get out at the next stop, sheriff's officials said. Tester and Martin had stolen beer from the cooler in the back of Trayer's truck, investigators said.

When Trayer pulled over at the Copper Boat Ramp on Applegate Lake, Tester and Martin allegedly began to beat him. Trayer's companion was not injured and told police that she saw part of the attack before she ran to find help. Investigators said they found beer cans at the boat ramp where Trayer's body had been left.

Tester and Martin allegedly stole Trayer's wallet and his pickup, which police found the next day off Coleman Creek Road near Phoenix. Martin, who lived in the 300 block of South C Street in Phoenix, turned himself over to police that afternoon. Tester was arrested at his home in the 4300 block of South Pacific Highway, Medford.

Tester and Martin had previously pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated murder, intentional murder, felony murder, unauthorized use of a vehicle and two counts of robbery. They have been held in the Jackson County Jail without bail since their arrests.

A trial for the two men was set to run for four weeks next month, including a penalty phase. Jurors might have considered the death penalty based on the charges of aggravated murder.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail .