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Applegate Lake killers get 25 years

The killers of a man beaten to death near Applegate Lake received mandatory 25-year prison sentences Friday.

Erik Lewis Tester and Shane Almus Martin, both 23, pleaded guilty in Jackson County Circuit Court to murdering 38-year-old Michael Trayer of Grants Pass in May.

Tester and Martin negotiated the plea with the District Attorney's Office to avoid going to trial. Jurors would have been asked to consider the death penalty if the men were convicted, said Allan Smith, deputy district attorney.

Trayer's sister, Michelle D'Acensio, of Wilderville, called the guilty plea and the 25-year sentences a mere token in exchange for her brother's life.

The perpetrators still have their families ... to embrace, and in 25 years they will probably reunite, D'Acensio said.

Before receiving his sentence, Martin told Trayer's family that he was truly sorry. Tester told Circuit Court Judge Ray White that he had nothing to say.

It is unbelievable that two complete strangers could make that decision to take him from us, said Trayer's mother, Linda Robinson, of Grants Pass.

What kind of monsters beat someone so severely? D'Acensio asked.

Tester and Martin beat Trayer mercilessly the night of May 29 after Trayer had agreed to give them a ride in his truck to a campsite near Applegate Lake, Smith said. Trayer was camping in the area with a female friend and picked up Tester and Martin on the side of Upper Applegate Road near their blue Oldsmobile, which had broken down.

Both men had been drinking and decided to steal Trayer's cooler of beer when he asked them to get out of the truck at the Copper Boat Ramp around midnight, Smith said. When the three began arguing, Tester and Martin started punching and kicking Trayer. They also clubbed him with unopened cans of beer, Smith said.

Tester and Martin then stole Trayer's wallet, which contained cash, and drove off in the maroon-colored pickup. Beaten to death or near death, Trayer was left by the side of the road, Smith said. He died of severe head injuries before emergency medical crews arrived, investigators said.

Evidence showed that Trayer was struck in the head so violently with beer cans that the cans exploded, Smith said. Medical examiners told Trayer's family that he was unrecognizable in an effort to dissuade them from viewing his body, D'Acensio told the court. White called the killing one more example of senseless, cruel, alcohol-induced violence.

Because Tester and Martin had only minor cuts and bruises when arrested, it was apparent that Trayer didn't put up much of a fight, Smith added. A construction worker, Trayer had injured his back several days earlier while putting up a wall, Smith said. Robinson, a registered nurse, told investigators that her son's back injury had nearly incapacitated him.

Trayer's female companion watched the beating but feared that Tester and Martin would come after her, said Eric Fox, a sergeant with the sheriff's department.

She said it seemed like it went on and on forever, and it wouldn't stop, Fox said. They just wouldn't stop until it was over.

The woman, a Grants Pass resident whose name has never been released, ran off and hid in the woods for a time, Fox said. She alerted some other campers in the area who gave her a ride to McKee Bridge store several miles away to call police, he said. Tester and Martin had given her their names while riding in the pickup, he added.

Police found the truck about 12 hours later off Coleman Creek Road near Phoenix, investigators said. After the slaying, Tester and Martin had gone to a friend's house in the Phoenix area and talked about the crime before they each walked home.

Martin turned himself over to police the next day, showing up at the sheriff's department wearing the same tennis shoes ' stained with blood ' that he had worn the night before, Fox said. Fox said he believed Martin knew he would be arrested because of investigators' discussions with his and Tester's friends and clear evidence linking them to the crime.

When police arrested Tester at his apartment in the 4300 block of South Pacific Highway he also had blood on his arms, shirt and pants, Fox said. Trayer's blood and the suspect's fingerprints were found at the boat ramp and in Trayer's pickup, Fox said.

Tester and Martin each were charged with aggravated murder, felony murder, intentional murder, unauthorized use of a vehicle and two counts of robbery. After they pleaded guilty to the felony murder charge, White dismissed the remaining counts under the terms of the plea agreement.

They each must serve a minimum of 25 years in prison without parole under Oregon's Measure 11 sentencing guidelines. They are subject to post-prison supervision for the rest of their lives and must pay Trayer's family for damages to his vehicle and the cost of his funeral.

Erik Lewis Tester, left, listens to comments from the family of the man he and Shane Almus Martin beat to death at Applegate Lake in May. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven