While a motive still has not been revealed in the 2011 double homicide of a Willard couple, newly released court documents say it was a conspiracy that led to their deaths.
When Rusty and Becky Porter went to bed on April 17, 2011, Becky, who lived the majority of her life in Stone County, wasn't feeling well. After not hearing from Becky family members went over and found the doors to the couples farmhouse open, no one inside and the home reeking of bleach.
The couples car keys were found in the ignition to their vehicle and security cameras outside the house had been ripped down.
|Rusty and Becky Porter|
Rusty, who had undergone cancer surgery and was recovering, was engaged in a feud with his uncle Robert Campbell, who lived on land adjacent to the Porters. They had gone as far as filing protection orders against each other but the matter was dropped in March when the men agreed to stay away from each other.
At the time the couple disappeared, Darrell Hufft, Becky Porter's brother, said Campbell "had been giving 'em some problems. Him and his son were mad because Rusty's mom gave them the farmhouse and five acres of land."
By the beginning of April it appears that a plan was in motion to kill the Porters.
At Tony Friend's plea hearing in December, Taney County prosecutor Jeff Merrell told the court that a week-and-a-half before Rusty and Becky went missing Friend, 46, was telling people that "he had a job to do, and the job was one hundred thousand dollars for two birthdays."
"The State would intend to present evidence that Robert Campbell hired and enlisted Tony Friend [who is Campbell's brother-in-law,] to kill Russell and Rebecca Porter," said Merrell. But the court documents don't say why Campbell wanted the couple killed.
"Tony Friend, Phillip Friend [Tony's son], Windy Friend [Friend's wife] and Dusty Hicks [Friend's cousin] drove in their pickup truck to the property of Robert Campbell. The men then walked to the Porters' home where Dusty Hicks found an open window [and] cut off the screen.
Hicks crawled through the window and unlocked a door "and let Tony and Phillip Friend into the residence."
The Porters were woken up, bound with zipties, and walked out of the home at gunpoint. They were then put in the cab of the truck that Windy Friend had driven to the house, according to the official court transcript.
"The men then dropped Windy off and proceeded to Cedar Creek with Russell and Rebecca Porter being held at gunpoint." Tony Friend told his son they were "just going to scare" the couple.
When they arrived at their destination in rural Taney County, Tony Friend marched the terrified couple into the woods in the early morning hours of April 18th. His son and cousin stayed with the truck. "After several minutes one single gunshot was heard." About ten minutes later a second gunshot was heard and Tony Friend "returned to the pickup alone."
That same day Friend convinced his family members that they had to return to Cedar Creek "to better dispose of the Porters' bodies." The murdered couples bodies were covered with debris inside a dilapidated shed "where their remains were ultimately discovered" in July of 2011. Both Becky and Rusty had been shot execution style, according to medical examiners.
Today's sentencing hearing was a mere formality. With the death penalty off the table the only sentence available was life without the possibility of parole. Friend got two of them that were ordered to be served concurrently. In his exchange for his plea, charges of felonious restraint and armed criminal action were dropped. He is currently serving a four year and nine month federal sentence for being a felon in possession of ammunition.
All five defendants in this case were indicted by a grand jury, therefore, no probable cause statement has ever been made public. The crux of this case is being unraveled during motion, suppression and plea hearings.
Windy Friend's trial is scheduled to begin next month in Taney County. A jury will be brought in from another county to hear it. Hicks and Campbell's trials are scheduled for later this year. Phillip Friend has already pleaded guilty to amended charges of second-degree murder and felonious restraint.
He is serving twin 7 year concurrent sentences for felonious restraint and won't learn his sentence on the murder charges until all of his co-defendant's have been sentenced. In exchange for the reduced charge he has agreed to testify for the state.
When family members addressed the court they talked of forgiveness...and hate.
Rusty mother, Sharon "Kay" Simmons said, "You will stand judged by God and will suffer like you've never suffered before. You have taken my only son and daughter-in-law."
"I don't understand why you did this," said Simmons. "You knew you would never get paid totally, yet you did it anyway. I just wonder if it was all worth it for you. God says in His word that we have to forgive others or we will not be forgiven, so in that sense I have to forgive you....so I do."
"There are no winners in this verdict only a lot of people that have lost so much," said Rusty's father, Paul Porter.
"The only thing that is accomplished here today is that justice may have been served," he said. "The Bible says I am supposed to forgive you also. I have not come close to reaching that point yet. May God have mercy on your soul."
Lauren Porter said not only did she lose her father, but Friend's daughter lost a father too. "I may have lost my father by force, but she lost hers by choice."
"You may hear my words and not listen," said the 13 year-old. "Or look at me and my family and not see us...but we see you. We can feel our own hatred radiating off of us. I hope you feel it and remember the crime you have committed. Death is the only good thing coming to you---yet the only thing left to taunt you. I hope you remember the fire in my eyes. I may have almost forgiven you, but not now."
Corey Ellsworth was the only son of Becky Porter. He said his mother cared more for others than herself. He talked about the countless times he's picked up the phone to call his mom to share something, but can't.
"Tony, the moment I first seen your picture I hated you. I have so many times thought of how I could avenge my mother by getting back at you but it would do no good and would make me no different than you."
Ellsworth said he and his family have been robbed of a life with Becky but said Friend would no longer "rob us of our joy or the rest of our lives."
"Tony, I can stand here today and say that today it ends,"said Ellsworth. As he wept he told Friend that two of the greatest gifts his mother taught him were those of forgiveness and salvation.
He then handed Merrell a Bible and asked him to give it to Friend.
"Today I think the tone overall was a very positive one," said the prosecutor. "I think the family of those victims is to be commended for that. It was a lot of genuine interest in the eternal salvation of Tony Friend, even though he killed their loves ones."
Robert Campbell also appeared in court today. Campbell, who is also facing murder charges connected to the Porters deaths, was charged with altering a vehicle identification number and receiving stolen property in Barry County last October.
Last week the Barry County charges were discharged against Campbell, who was out on bond on the murder charge at the time of his latest arrest, after Judge Victor Head said there was not enough evidence against him to proceed to trial.
His lawyer, Robert Lewis, wants Judge Mark Orr to release him on the previous bond since the charges were dismissed.
A hearing on the matter will be heard next Thursday (02-20-14). Merrell says two Greene County detectives will be called to discuss what was found during a search of Campbell's property.