|Tony Lee Friend (mug shot GCSO)|
Two people were charged with first-degree murder for the deaths of Rusty and Becky Porter after a grand jury handed up a six count indictment today (10-3-12.)
Tony Lee Friend, 44, of Springfield and Dusty Ray Hicks, 25, of Walnut Grove are each facing two counts of first-degree murder, armed criminal action and felonious restraint connected to the murders of the Porter's.
|Dusty Ray Hicks (mug shot GCSO)|
At the time the grand jury was seated in late July, Taney County prosecutor Jeff Merrell said that one of the "possible"cases that jurors could look were the murders of the Porter's, who went missing from their Willard home in April of 2011. Their house was found unlocked, abandoned and reeking of bleach. The couples skeletal remains were found on July 21, 2011, near Protem.
In May of this year, Tony Friend was named the "primary suspect" in the double homicide in court papers associated with a drug case that was eventually dropped in September by Greene County prosecutors.
|Rusty and Becky Porter|
Those same court documents say Friend grew up near where the couple's remains were found, and that he "often visited the exact location." The couple, who had each been shot in the head, were found on property belonging to Florence Collins, who is Dusty Hicks' maternal grandmother, according to Hicks' grandmother, Freda Hicks.
Authorities also said Friend threatened a Greene County detective who is involved in the homicide investigation and the detectives family. They also say he made threats against state and federal judicial centers.
Hicks has little criminal history other than traffic violations, according to online court records.
Becky Ellsworth-Porter had close ties to the Crane and Galena area. She and her former husband pastored the Galena Assembly of God and Becky Porter worked at Stone County National Bank in Galena.
At a joint press conference between Greene and Taney County authorities held in Taney County, Merrell would not discuss a motive, or relationship between the accused and the Porter's. However, he did say that investigator's believe the couple were killed in Taney County.
|Greene County Prosecutor Todd Myers, Taney County Sheriff Jimmie Russell, Taney County Prosecutor Jeff Merrell and Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott along with Greene County Detectives|
Merrell would not discuss a motive because the investigation into the Porter's murders is "ongoing," and that charges against other people is "a possibility."
Due to the Grand Jury indicting Friend and Hicks, there will be no preliminary hearing for the duo and they were automatically bound over to circuit court. Merrell says he's not ready to comment on whether or not he will seek the death penalty against either defendant at this time.
|Part of the Greene County case files in the Porter homicide investigation|
Hicks' brother-in-law, Mark Woodcock, says he was told that Friend, who is Dusty Hicks' second cousin, allegedly called Hicks the night the Porter's went missing and asked him to come pick him, Windy Friend and the Porter's up at the Porter's residence. Woodcock said Friend allegedly told Hicks "to drop him off in rural part of Taney County and come back in X amount of time to pick them up."
When Hicks went back at the designated time the Porter's weren't with the Friend's, according to Woodcock.
'I think Windy has turned state's evidence," said Woodcock.
Hicks' mother, Alice, says she "has no clue what's going on." I was driving down the road this afternoon listening to KTTS when the news came on....I was, and am, shocked."
Woodcock says he's "not surprised that Tony was charged with it - he's a seasoned criminal, dope manufacturing loser. Dusty's just a kid....if he's guilty the justice system will sort that out - I just don't believe that he has a murdering bone in his body."
Sheriff Arnott says one of the most frustrating parts of an investigation "is that you're not able to tell family anything - even if you know something five days after the case gets underway." He says, "we feel good to get this out to the public, but this is the beginning...the beginning of another phase."
Kay Simmons, Russell Porter's mother, says she's been asked if this brings her some sort of closure. This is not closure...it's the beginning. I can’t have any closure until somebody is convicted but it’s a good start," she said.
Simmons says she's been told that Friend and his wife, Windy, lived with Windy's grandmother on WW Highway, about three miles from the Porter's home, for a time.
Corey Ellsworth, Becky Porter's son, says he was notified about two hours before the arrests were announced to the media. "It's a relief to know that two people are charged now. I just keep thinking there's got to be more than two people involved though."
"We've made a lot of progress. It's boiling down now....it won't be long now until there's justice," said Ellsworth.
Friend and Hicks are each being held on $500,000 bond.
Friend and Hicks were scheduled to be arraigned in Taney County today, however, Judge Mark Orr postponed their arraignments until October 25th due to "an attorney conflict."