3:42 PM

Tony Lee Friend (mug shot GCSO)

A man who charged in the 2011 kidnapping and execution murders of Rusty and Becky Porter has pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder.

Tony Friend made the surprise plea on December 17th in a Taney County courtroom.  In exchange for his plea, Taney County prosecutor Jeff Merrell dismissed charges of felonious restraint and armed criminal action against Friend "because they really weren't necessary at that point."

Merrell, had been contemplating whether or not to seek the death penalty against Friend.  When the 46 year-old man decided to plead guilty, Merrell agreed to no longer seek the sentence.  Now it's up to Judge Mark Orr to decide if those sentences will run consecutively (one after the other) or concurrently (at the same time) when he is sentenced in February.

home the Porter's disappeared from (courtesy Springfield News Leader)

Rusty and Becky Porter, who lived in Stone County for the majority of her life, disappeared from their home near Willard in April of 2011. Their home "reeked" of bleach, that was puddled in different areas of the farmhouse the couple had recently renovated, when family members went to check on the couple.  Security cameras outside the Porters' home were torn down.

In July of the same year their skeletal remains were found in rural Taney County on land that Tony Friend "was very familiar with."

Rusty and Becky Porter

Tony Friend's son, Phillip, has already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection to the case and could be called as a witness for the state.  Friend's wife, Windy, his uncle Robert Campbell, and his cousin Dusty Hicks are all still awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges.

Merrell announced earlier this year that he would not seek the death penalty against Windy Friend, Dusty Hicks or Robert Campbell.

Robert Campbell, Tony Friend, Windy Friend and Dusty Hicks

Merrell says Tony Friend, unlike his son, did not agree to help prosecutors in their upcoming trials.

A clear motive for the couple's murders has not been established and it was not laid out in court records because all five of those charged with murder were indicted by a grand jury.  However, Merrell said in an interview that he believed Tony Friend was hired to carry out the double homicide and he "recruited" the others to help carry out the murder for hire.

At the time of the couple's disappearance, Rusty Porter was involved in a litigious battle with his uncle Robert Campbell, who lived on land adjacent to the Porter's at the time of their disappearance.  Family members say a property dispute between the men, who had each filed orders of protection against each other, was part of the reason the murders were carried out.

Campbell, who moved to Purdy not long after he was released on bond in this case, was arrested earlier this fall in Barry County on receiving stolen property and removal or altering a vehicle identification number.

At the time of his arrest in Barry County,  Sheriff Mick Epperly said investigators seized two guns, business records and cell phones that are possible evidence in the murder investigation during a raid of Campbell's and another man's home in October.  He remains jailed in Barry County.

Several sources say an intricate scheme that could involve investigations launched by several state and/or federal agencies in this case could come to light at upcoming trials and may have played a role in the double homicide.

"I'm anticipating we will try all of the remaining cases at this point," said Merrell.