I recently moved into a new home and obtained a new cable provider. I now have Investigation Discovery (ID) and strangely enough, despite the fact that I just saw a recent episode on this case on there it just so happened to be next on my long list of cases. Along with getting the new cable provider, I am also obviously in a position to meet new neighbors. I am sure that we have all experienced living near someone who we just did not necessarily like. I had just such a neighbor several years ago, long before the series Fear Thy Neighbor was a stable on the ID channel. Thankfully in my case although it was a family that lived there, it was only the man that was well, unstable, I guess would be the word. We just simply did our best to avoid him and that was fairly possible considering that we lived on a corner lot and the man and his family lived behind us. While interactions with the man were unpleasant it never rose to the level of some of the cases I have read about. It appears that in most cases both sides are to blame for some things and you will often hear people from both sides express remorse for their prior actions once a tragedy occurs. But, in the same respect, while I agree with some who “retaliated” generally with words or actions, I have to say that if I was put in the same position I am unsure how I would react. To know me is to know that I am not always the most rational person when it comes to speaking my mind or standing my ground. Luckily so far that has not gotten me into trouble.
This case though almost seemed inevitable to end in tragedy. In fact, it already had once before. One of the neighbors, Donald Easley, had already shot and killed Kenneth Vaughn in 2009. A grand jury would look at the case and rule that Easley had shot Vaughn in self defense and no charges were brought against him. But four years later, when Easley would shoot and kill Laron Estes, who had bought the land Vaughn had once lived on the outcome would be different.
Fifty-nine year old Laron Estes was killed on his Kerby Oregon property on September 7, 2013. Laron, his common law wife, Barbara Hicks and Donald Easley had been having what could only be described as a feud for the past year and a half. Laron and Barbara considering moving at one point and even looked into things but it just was not financially feasible. Donald, who lived next door with his elderly mother, apparently never thought of moving. As is often the case such as situations like this one not only were there disputes about who did what to whom, when, there were also debates on exactly what started the fighting to begin with. Most say that the real fighting began in April of 2012 after Easley had installed some very bright lights on his property that shined right into Laron and Barbara's bedroom. It has been alleged and one can only assume it is true that Laron and Barbara attempted to talk reasonable to Easley about these lights but nothing seemed to change. So, apparently out of frustration Laron had gone onto Easley's property and unplugged the light. This seemed to anger Easley and for the next year and a half the two neighbors would accuse the other of doing this or that, making calls to the police or animal control.
At some point Laron Estes had been informed about the previous shooting involving Kenneth Vaughn. There were some in the area who did not see it as a justified shooting, and there were others who felt he should know just how far Donald Easley had taken things in the past, regardless of what a court had ruled. It is unclear what Estes and Hicks may have originally thought or felt about the previous incident but eventually it did not seem to matter. At some point Estes erected a sign a sign on his property that said “murderer” and pointed to Easley's home.
During all of this the police really did or could do much. Laron and Barbara had been breeding and raising chihuahuas and did not have the proper permits to do so. While it seemed clear that none of the animals were harmed or abused in any way, they way they had gone about it had been illegal and it gave Easley's leverage in their fights. This of course angered Laron as it cost him money and a business. Laron and Barbara also often complained that Easley had more than a dozen cats that would often get into their gardens. But again, little was done other than raise the ire of the two men it seems.
Things changed a bit when Laron received a letter from a psychiatrist that Easley was seeing. It is really unclear why the therapist sent the letter to Laron as opposed to reporting to the police but the letter warned Laron that apparently through their sessions Easley had threatened to kill him several times. Laron apparently believed that this would allow him to get a restraining order against his neighbor but the courts would not allow the letter into the court and reports were that the therapist was unable to testify and the judge refused the order at that time. However, just one week prior to the shooting Charles Easley had obtained a restraining order against Estes. According to reports it was unclear under what conditions he was able to do so. Many would believe later that it was gotten under false pretenses simply so that when something did occur Easley could use the restraining order as evidence or an excuse.
Sometime during all of this a makeshift fence had been built between the two properties. It consisted of pallets, chicken wire and black plastic (by the sounds of things it was basically trash bags). Just who made the fence and controlled it never seemed to be clear. On the day of the shooting Easley would claim that he was working on the fence while on a ladder installing more barb wire to the fence. His mother would back this claim, although in fairness by her own assessment she was not outside when the shooting occurred. Barbara would claim that Laron had taken his truck over to the fence and was in the bed of the truck also making repairs to the fence on his side. I found nothing that clearly stated who supposedly began doing what, first.
Easley would claim that Laron Estes tore a hole in the plastic and lunged at him. Easley took his gun and fired, what he said was two shots in self defense. Barbara would claim that Laron was attempting to abide by the restraining order (it is likely he welcomed it considering he had wanted one himself) and that he had fallen when Easley had startled him from the other side. She had just walked away to get something from the garage and claimed that Laron was running away when three shots were fired, the third striking him.
Easley was not immediately arrested because investigators needed to look at the situation but apparently considering the fact that Laron Estes was shot in the back, indicated that he was running from, not toward, Easley when the shots were fired told them this was not just a self defense case. At his subsequent trial, the defense would argue that when calling 911 Barbara had not mentioned Laron falling into the fence. They also pointed out that she had apparently stated that she heard Easley yell out, not Laron. This did not sway the jury. While investigators would state from the beginning that the Vaughn shooting some four years prior had not influenced the investigation in this case I have to say I highly doubt that to be true, but I also do not believe that was a wrong choice. As he had done in the Vaughn case, Easley would once again claim self defense. I suspect despite any discrepancies that the defense could prove in Barbara's story, and they did seem rather minor, that there was ample evidence that the core of the story was true. I saw nothing that disputed that Laron's vehicle had been moved next to the fence and this indicates to me that he was likely there working on the fence first. I say this because if Laron was attempting to be “sneaky” or start something with Easley it is unlikely that he would have started his vehicle and moved it near the fence to work on it. In the same respect, Easley stated he used a ladder that could have been placed much more quietly near the makeshift fence. However, the bullet hole to Laron's back, and the fact that Easley had shot and killed the previous neighbor likely played more important roles in the case than what a hysterical woman stated to 911. Investigators had to know, if they did not prove Easley had killed Laron Estes deliberately that it would not likely be the last neighbor they would find on that property.
Donald Easley was in fact found guilty on charges of murder and the unlawful use of a weapon. In September of 2014 he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after twenty-five years. He was sixty four years old at the time of his sentence. Easley was also ordered to pay over four thousand dollars in restitution to Barbara Hicks as she had witnessed the shooting. Prior to his formal sentencing Easley apologized to Laron Estes' family, sans Barbara Hicks. He would stand and what can only be described as ramble seemingly blaming everyone else for the situation he was in, except for himself. He would accuse Barbara of lying and continued to throw accusations about Laron and Barbara to the judge. While many believed Easley's previous victim, Kenneth Vaughn to be mentally unstable, one has to wonder if they diagnosed the correct person with that stigma.