A man from Springfield pleaded guilty on Tuesday for the murders of a couple who disappeared from their home in rural Greene County in April 2011. Tony Friend will receive a sentence of life in prison without chance of parole in February.
Friend is one of five people who were charged in late 2012 for the murders of Becky and Rusty Porter, who lived on Highway HH north of Willard. Investigators believe the Porters were kidnapped from their home, taken to Taney County, shot to death and buried in a remote location near Pro Tem. That's where law enforcement officers found their bodies in July 2011.
Prosecutors said they would seek death penalties against the five defendants if they got first-degree murder convictions. On Tuesday, in return for Friend pleading guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, the prosecuting attorney agreed to not seek the death penalty and to drop two charges of armed criminal action and two charges of felonious restraint.
Tony Friend is the second person to plead guilty for the Porters' murders. His son, Philip Friend, pleaded guilty last May to two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of felonious restraint. He received a seven-year prison sentence.
The others who are charged are Windy Friend, Tony Friend's wife and Philip Friend's stepmother; Dusty Hicks, a friend of the Friends; and Robert Campbell, an uncle of Rusty Porter. Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Merrell said Tuesday that he believes Campbell hired Tony Friend to kill the Porters, and Tony Friend recruited the others to help him. That's the first time that an official source has called this a murder-for-hire case.
On Tuesday, Merrell wouldn't comment about the possible reason for the murder-for-hire scheme. He said he isn't sure he knows the exact reason, and doesn't want to jeopardize the trials of the other three defendants by speculating.
After the Porters disappeared, family members told reporters that Campbell and Rusty Porter had a long-standing feud over various issues. Campbell lived near the Porters on a family farm, which was divided up among various family members.
Merrell also wouldn't comment about how investigators think the group took the Porters away from their home. Investigators found evidence that the kidnappers used bleach and other cleaning products in the Porters' home to try to conceal what happened. The kidnappers also disabled surveillance cameras that were around the Porters' home.
The home of the Porters (shown above) burned down several months after they were kidnapped and killed. A cousin was living in the home, but a cause of the fire was not determined.
Campbell moved away from the family compound. After he was charged for the murders and posted bond, Campbell was living near Purdy when he was arrested and charged with other, unrelated crimes last summer (see stories under "More" at top right of this report).
Windy Friend is scheduled for trial next March 24, Dusty Hicks is scheduled for trial on May 9, and Campbell is scheduled for trial on Oct. 16. A Taney County grand jury issued indictments in all the cases. That means the cases have no probable cause statements that are made public, as is the case in crimes charged by prosecutors' complaints. That's why so little is known about what investigators believe are the details of the crimes against the Porters.