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Victim's partner describes shooting in Kerby murder trial

Barbara Hicks cried on the stand on Thursday, listening to her 911 call from Sept. 7, 2013, when her longtime partner Laron Estes was shot by neighbor Donald Easley.

"The neighbor Donald Easley just shot my husband in the back. Oh baby, no. Oh, don't die on me. Oh God. Oh honey I love you."

Estes could be heard moaning in the background, as they waited for emergency personnel.

Estes, 59, was alive when medics arrived, but was pronounced dead at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass. Now the 64-year-old Easley is on trial for murder. The trial is expected to last at least through next week.

Neighbors, Oregon State Police troopers, detectives and criminologists are among witnesses expected to be called.

Easley pleaded not guilty, arguing he shot Estes only after his neighbor attacked him along a makeshift fence that separated their properties in Kerby.

On Thursday, the second day of the trial, Hicks was grilled about the details of the killing and the events leading up to it, which included a 17-month feud.

She testified that just prior to the shooting, Estes was trying to repair the fence and was in the bed of his pickup parked next to the fence. She told the jury Estes fell while trying to avoid Easley, whom they both heard over the fence.

She said Estes wanted to comply with a restraining order directing him and Easley to stay away from each other.

Hicks, after retrieving duct tape from a garage, was standing 10 or 15 feet away when the scene unfolded, after she said, "Uh-oh, here he comes" to Estes.

Estes, she told the jury, "lost his footing … fell into the fence and ripped it open, letting out a scream. I saw a hand come out of the plastic and start shooting. Laron turned to run away and he got shot."

"I was backing up and Laron said, 'Oh my God. I've been hit. I'm not kidding. I've been hit,'" Hicks testified.

The couple had put up the black plastic fencing to avoid seeing Easley, and to block lights on his property.

Defense attorney Gary Berlant asked Hicks why on the 911 tape she said she heard Easley scream, then on the stand said it was Estes who screamed. He also noted she hadn't mentioned Estes falling into the fence in the 911 call.

"I don't recall that," she said.

Hicks said the hole in the plastic wasn't there until Estes fell and grabbed it to get his balance, ripping it open.

Both attorneys questioned Hicks over the long list of issues that surfaced after the neighbors quit getting along following a year and a half of good relations.

Things went south in April 2012, when Estes unplugged a light on Easley's property because it was keeping them awake at night.

The next day Hicks said Easley started taking pictures and threatening them.

"He said, 'You'll see. I have something planned for you,'" Hicks said.

Prosecutors allege several people heard Easley talk of shooting his neighbor, just as he did in November 2009 when he shot and killed Kenneth L. Vaughn, on the same property. A grand jury ruled that shooting was justified.

Berlant, the defendant's lawyer, contends Estes had displayed plenty of antagonistic behavior, such as spraying Easley with a hose, which precipitated the first physical confrontation between the two men, on Aug. 9, 2013.

Easley had problems with the more than 30 Chihuahuas his neighbors were raising, while Estes and Hicks were fed up with Easley's more than a dozen cats, which were defecating in their garden.

Reach Grants Pass Daily Courier reporter Jeff Duewel at jduewel@thedailycourier.com.