After crawling into the bed with her dad, as she often did, the 8-year-old girl awoke to the sound of her father screaming. She looked up to see an unknown man dressed in black plunging a sword into her father at their home near Spangle, south of Spokane, according to records and court testimony.
Despite a stab wound that pierced his chest, lung and liver, Robert J. Tester, 35, who was the nephew of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. , fought back. The next day, on Sept. 6, 2016, investigators found a blood trail from the upstairs bedroom through the house to where Tester’s body was found next to his own firewood-splitting maul, which apparently was used to deliver the killing blow.
The testimony came Wednesday at the beginning of the first-degree murder trial of John A. Radavich, 24, who is charged with killing Tester on Sept. 5, 2016.
“Blood covered the entire house and most of the surfaces of the home,” Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Richard Whaley told the jury. “Just feet from Mr. Tester’s body was the splitting maul that was covered in blood.”
The case remained unsolved for months until Dec. 26, 2016, when Radavich called a good friend, Richard Watt, in Midland, Texas. Unbeknownst to Radavich, Watt had an app on his phone that recorded every call. In that rambling conversation, Radavich admitted killing Robert Tester.
“He’s going to get up here and try to justify his actions,” Whaley said of Radavich. “He thoughtfully planned and executed this brutal murder.”
Defense attorney Douglas Pierce told the 14 jury members, of whom four are women, that he won’t dispute much of the evidence against his client, including the DNA that investigators matched from the splitting maul.
Instead, he said his client went to the Spangle-area home because Robert Tester had abused a 17-year-old girl whom Radavich had recently dated. Pierce acknowledged that his client dressed in dark clothing, including a bandana. Radavich approached the home of Tester, whom he had never met, armed with a sword and a dagger.
“We sit here confident that you will look at the evidence and come away with a different conclusion,” Pierce told the jury. Radavich “didn’t expect to have happen what happened.”
Despite claims by the 8-year-old daughter that an unknown man broke into the home, Pierce said Radavich quietly knocked on the door to Tester’s home.
“The evidence will show that when Mr. Tester arrived at the door, it was Mr. Tester who brought the splitting maul. It was Mr. Tester who escalated the situation,” Pierce said. “It escalated into a fight to the death. There was a lot of blood. This was a brutal fight to the death started by Mr. Tester.”
Radavich, who is expected to testify in his own defense, smashed the back of Tester’s head with the maul.
“It’s tragic that (the girl) lost her dad,” Pierce said. “We expect, we hope that after you hear everything that you will come back with a not guilty verdict.”
After opening arguments, Whaley called Watt to the witness stand to testify about the phone call that broke the case.
“It started off like a normal conversation,” Watt said. “But it took a turn … when he started talking about what he did.”
Prosecutors played a recording of the phone call to the jury.
“This is something I have been keeping to myself for a while,” Radavich said on the call. “This is like a life-changing event that nobody can know about.”
Radavich described meeting the 17-year-old and how she suffered black eyes and a broken rib from a beating that had come at the hands of Tester. Radavich also claimed that the Spokane County Sheriff’s office wouldn’t do anything about the domestic assault.
“I thought about it and prayed about it. I finally said I’ve had enough,” Radavich said. “I took care of it.”
On the call, Watt asked Radavich what he meant. “I kind of removed him from the equation,” Radavich said. “I killed a man.”
Radavich instructed his friend to do an online search of “Bob Tester and Spokane.” Watt asked if he was the only one Radavich had told. Radavich told Watt that he had also told the 17-year-old.
“I needed her to help cover my tracks,” Radavich said.
Watt then asked what Radavich did with the weapons he used. Radavich explained that he discarded the sword somewhere in Snoqualmie Pass and the clothes somewhere south of Spokane “toward Pullman. Everything I was wearing is completely gone. It’s turned into a complete cold case.”
That was true until the next day when Watt called Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives.
Lois Tester, who is the mother of the victim, told the jury about how close her son was with his daughter.
“She loved her dad. She would run and jump into his arms,” Lois Tester said.
She was sleeping on the morning of Sept. 6, 2016, when the 8-year-old called on her dad’s cellphone.
“When she told me … I didn’t believe it. She said some man broke into the house last night and killed my dad,” Lois Tester said. “She sounded afraid and she wanted us there to comfort her. I told her wait there in a safe place and don’t go to the door for anybody.”
Lois Tester immediately had her husband call 911 as the couple raced from Rathdrum, Idaho, to her son’s home north of Spangle. When she arrived, she found her granddaughter in a deputy’s squad car.
“She had tears in her eyes, like she was in shock,” Tester said. “When I went to hug her, she fell into my chest. I said I was sorry that I wasn’t there to help.
“She said, ‘You are lucky you didn’t have to see all the blood. I just don’t think you could have handled it,’ ” Tester recalled her granddaughter saying. “I was devastated that she had to witness that.”
The trial, before Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno, is expected to last into next week.
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