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Transient gets 6 years for beating death along the Bear Creek Greenway

A transient was sentenced to more than six years in prison this afternoon after admitting he beat another homeless man to death last summer along the Bear Creek Greenway.

Michael Joseph Atwood, 52, killed Rickey Michael Lemich, 51, on Aug. 5, 2015, at a temporary homeless camp along the Greenway near the Central Point Pilot station.

A witness observed Atwood on top of Lemich and heard "slapping sounds," Senior Deputy District Attorney Allan Smith said in court. Prior to the beating, the witness had overheard an altercation between Atwood and Lemich regarding Atwood's girlfriend, but left the area while the beating was occurring, according to the Jackson County District Attorney's Office.

Atwood expressed remorse during today's hearing in Jackson County Circuit Court and said that he didn't mean to kill Lemich. Atwood said he hardly knew him and had interacted with Lemich only once or twice.

In an apology letter, Atwood said he was "very surprised" when Lemich struck him in the head, starting the physical altercation, but "even more surprised" when he found out later that the beating had killed him.

"I completely lost control, which is unacceptable," Atwood said, reading from the letter.

Paul Moser, Atwood's court-appointed defense attorney, said his client has struggled with alcohol his entire life, which contributed to the crime.

Lemich's body was found the next morning when Central Point police performed a welfare check at the camp, Smith said. Blunt force trauma to the head was determined to be the cause of death. Forensic analysis of the crime scene found Atwood's fingerprints in Lemich's blood on a water bottle, and Lemich's blood was found on a piece of paper in Atwood's shorts, according to the release.

Circuit Judge Kelly Ravassipour cited a section of a 20-page letter submitted by Lemich's ex-wife prior to the hearing.

"You took the life of a son, a brother, an uncle and a father," Ravassipour said.

She called the sentence "appropriate" and encouraged Atwood to take advantage of programs in the Oregon Department of Corrections. Atwood has a criminal record dating back to 1982 in Oregon, to 1989 in Jackson County, with numerous felony convictions for robbery and possession, manufacture and delivery of controlled substances, including methamphetamine. Ravassipour asked Atwood to look at the direction his life was heading.

"Hopefully you just turn your life around. It's not too late," Ravassipour said. 

Atwood was sentenced to 75 months in prison after pleading guilty to a felony charge of second-degree manslaughter, a Measure 11 crime. Atwood previously faced murder and first-degree manslaughter charges, which prosecutors dropped for the lesser manslaughter charge, citing a lack of witnesses and Atwood's lack of intent to kill Lemich, the DA's Office said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Michael Joseph Atwood