Tough prison time for father & son in 'horrific' skier attack

Credit: Kristen Henderson/KGW-TV

Michael Collins received the maximum sentence under Washington law, according to the Skamania Superior Court judge.


by Staff

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 3:27 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 5:00 AM

STEVENSON, Wash. -- The mastermind behind the violent attack and carjacking of a skier in the Columbia River Gorge will spend more than 24 years behind bars.

Skamania Superior Court Judge E. Thompson Reynolds sentenced Michael Collins to more than 24 years in prison for first-degree attempted murder in the attack on Robert Tracey and more than six years for first-degree robbery - the maximum sentences permitted under Washington state law. The sentences will run concurrently. Collins will also have to pay $25 per month in restitution to Tracey, the judge ruled.

Before the sentence was announced, Tracey spoke in court and urged the judge to enforce the toughest possible sentence against Michael Collins. He said Collins' past shows that he has grown progressively more dangerous over the last 15 years and the public deserves to be protected from the violent criminal.

A short time later Reynolds sentenced Teven Collins as well to 8 years in prison for his role in the attack, which was the recommended sentence prosecutors had arranged. Teven testified against his father on Wednesday in exchange for a plea deal from the state.

"I’m here to ask the court to impose the longest sentence," Tracey said. "I believe this proceeding of every act, every decision that this person has made in 15 years. I was attacked and beaten needlessly. I believe that this person will reoffend, I saw this with my own eyes what this person is capable of and I’m telling you -- it will happen again if he will be released."

Judge Reynolds said that he was "astounded" by the "horrific nature" and "absolute senselessness" of the attack on Tracey.

"Words can't describe how sorry I am and I hope that one day the community and Mr. Tracey can forgive me," Teven said in court Thursday.

Following the sentencing, the judge told Teven, "I just hope that when you do get out, that we never, ever see you in a courtroom again."

Jurors made quick decision

Jurors took less than two hours Wednesday to unanimously find Collins guilty on all counts in the attempted murder, robbery and carjacking of Tracey. The trial wrapped up more than one year after Tracey was brutally beaten, dragged into the woods near a Columbia River Gorge waterfall, and left for dead in snow and sub-freezing temperatures.

The victim told KGW Wednesday night that he was glad to learn of the conviction. Watch Robert Tracey interview

Son testifies against father 

Deliberations began late Wednesday, shortly after Collins' son and accomplice, Teven, testified against his father, telling the court his paroled father had coerced him to beat the Washougal cross-country skier with a wooden club in order to "earn bones."

Background: Collinses arrested in Mexico

When asked to explain, Teven told jurors the phrase was encouragement from his father to kill Tracey. The defense attorney for Michael Collins rested without calling a single witness.

Both father and son originally pleaded not guilty to the charges, which included attempted murder, robbery and carjacking. Just before the trial began, though, the 16-year-old Teven switched his plea to guilty. Prosecutors told Teven that his testimony could bring leniency during post-trial sentencing.

Teven delivered on Wednesday. Teven told the jury his father Michael had contacted him online after being banned from contact by the boy's mother. The two took off together against the wishes of Teven's mother and were encamped in the Gorge, without money or food and near Dougan Falls, a scenic area along Washington Hwy 14. More: Robert Tracey testimony

Investigators later found evidence confirming they'd camped in the area, near the location that Tracey was found laying on the ground by three hikers who happened upon him. Video: Hikers find skier in woods


Tracey lives to testify; 'America's Most Wanted' found in Mexico

The Collinses stole Tracey's wallet and black Ford Explorer and headed south toward California as Tracey was hospitalized, but alive. Federal investigators followed the father-son attackers via occasional updates on MySpace at first; when those stopped they kept tabs by watching activity on Tracey's credit card.

They headed south through California and the trail went cold as Tracey underwent facial reconstruction surgery and a long, slow recovery, aided by well-wishers and the community of musicians around the Columbia River Gorge.

Around the middle of last year, the television show "America's Most Wanted" aired Robert Tracey's story. A short time later, a report came in that a pair resembling the two - as seen on TV - had been spotted thousands of miles away, in Mexico.

Details: America's Most Wanted profile

Federal marshals were dispatched to the Baja Pacific Coast in search of the Collinses. They were returned to Skamania County in August 2009, six months after they beat Tracey and left him in the Gorge.

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KGW News Reporters Erica Heartquist, Anne Yeager and Photographer Mike Galaminis contributing.