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Defense attorney Gary Berlant and assistant Erin Biencourt listen Thursday as Donald Easley addresses prosecutor Lisa Turner just before his sentencing. Timothy Bullard /Daily Courier

Man sentenced to life in prison for killing neighbor

Donald Easley sat with his hands clasped on the table in front of him, lips pursed and eyes fixed on a corner of the ceiling as family members of the neighbor he killed, Laron Estes, poured out their grief at Easley's sentencing hearing in a Josephine County courtroom Thursday.

Estes' mother, Kathy DeVol, told the 65-year-old Kerby man that he took one of the most precious things "that God has ever given me."

"What did you win? What did you win?" she said to Easley. "And that's my last words to you."

Found guilty by a jury of murder and unlawful use of a weapon last week, on Thursday Easley was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. He was also ordered to pay $4,674 in restitution to Estes' widow, Barbara Hicks, who was there when her husband was shot.

A tearful Hicks clutched Grants Pass police Detective Archie Lidey's hand as she told Easley that he had stolen an angel from her.

"Sure, he wasn't a perfect angel. None of us are. But he didn't deserve to be murdered," she said.

Hicks wrapped by saying, "Nobody wins in this. We've all lost. I have so much more to say but it wouldn't be polite."

The shooting on Sept. 7, 2013, followed about a year and a half of discord between the neighbors over issues including Estes unplugging a light belonging to Easley because the light bothered him; Easley's cats; Estes' Chihuahuas; and trash on Estes' and Hicks' property.

The violence that claimed Estes' life was precipitated by an altercation at the makeshift fence made of pallets, chicken wire and black plastic that separated the two properties, located along Redwood Highway in Kerby.

Easley claimed he was standing on a ladder installing barbed wire along the fence when Estes tore a hole through the plastic and lunged at him, grabbing his shorts. Easley said he fired his pistol twice in self defense.

Prosecutors contended that Estes was making repairs to the fence and fell into it after Easley's presence startled him.

In 2009, Easley also shot and killed another neighbor, Kenneth Vaughn, on the same property that Estes and Hicks later moved onto. A grand jury determined that was a case of self defense and that the shooting was justified.

Estes' brother Gary Estes told Easley Thursday, "You wanted to bait and murder my brother." Referring to Easley's prison sentence, he added, "I pray you use this time to turn your life around."

Later in the hearing, Easley was given the chance to speak, and he stood and faced Estes' family.

"All you folks, I do apologize. Except for her," he said, looking toward Hicks. He accused the widow of lying, and repeatedly proclaimed his innocence.

"I have never felt I got away with anything," he said. "On the contrary, I have been emotionally devastated by the horror of that day."

He continued talking directly to the family until Judge Pat Wolke instructed him to turn around and address the court instead.

Easley's lengthy statement included proclamations of love for his mother and brother, both of whom were in the room; promises that he would be OK in prison; more accusations against Estes and Hicks; and even a reference to the pet dispute.

"I liked the dogs. They were great. They played back and forth with my cats," he said.

When he finished, Wolke said that what he heard was Easley blaming everyone but himself.

"You can proclaim your innocence until your dying day, but it's not going to change anything," Wolke told him.

After attorneys tied up loose ends, including discussing whether numerous firearms seized from Easley's property would be returned to his mother, the hearing ended and the audience spilled into the hallway. Hugs of relief were exchanged by Estes' family members as Easley's mother, Clarice Bishop, solemnly pushed a wheelchair containing her other son, Keith Howder, out of the courtroom.

"All I can say is, 'Yes,' " Hicks said.

Reach reporter Melissa McRobbie at 541-474-3806 or mmcrobbie@thedailycourier.com

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