Samuel Allen Burkhead, 38, was sentenced April 2 to life in prison by Howell County Circuit Court Judge John Garner Moody on a change of venue from Oregon County.
Burkhead was initially charged with first-degree murder and faced life without parole for shooting Robert Hardwick, 43, in the head at a remote rock quarry off County Road 201 south of Alton.
Hardwick's younger brother, Marvin Allen Hardwick, 43 at the time of his death in September 2011, was out on bond, also charged with first-degree murder. Court documents indicate the younger Hardwick lured the victim to the Doss and Harper Quarry so that Burkhead could kill him on July 31, 2010.
Hardwick's bond, originally set at $1 million, was reduced to $100,000 last winter with the special condition that he was to not reside with his parents, although he could visit. He was out on bond since February 2011 awaiting an April 2012 trial.
Burkhead remained in the Oregon County Jail in Alton on $1 million bond. His trial was set for July in Howell County.
The probable cause statement filed in the case indicates the Hardwick brothers' father, Amos Hardwick, reported that his youngest son, Marvin, and his friend, Burkhead, found his oldest son, Robert, dead at the quarry.
Oregon County Sheriff's Deputy Eddie Johnson wrote that Burkhead admitted to shooting Robert Hardwick in the back of the head with a rifle, and that he and Marvin decided earlier in the day to kill Robert that afternoon.
Johnson also reported that Burkhead said he discussed the killing with Hardwick's parents and Marvin, and that they knew he was going to kill Robert.
The parents just didn't know when, the report states.
The report does not include a motive for killing Hardwick.
Oregon County Prosecutor Fred O'Neill said he pushed for a plea deal with Burkhead because a jury may have recommended a lighter sentence. Burkhead will serve at least 26 years before being eligible for parole.
O'Neill said Burkhead took the deal because he did not want to risk the possibility of a life sentence without parole.
In March, Burkhead sent a handwritten letter to Areawide Media, claiming he did not kill Robert Hardwick, and that Marvin Hardwick was the one who actually pulled the trigger.
Burkhead should not have sent that letter from the jail, O'Neill said.
"He and his lawyer had a long heart-to-heart talk about that," O'Neill said, adding that all deals would have been off the table if the letter had been printed by any news media.
Oregon County Sheriff George Underwood said inmates have mail privileges.
Except for legal papers, letters are screened, although the letter could have been passed to an inmate leaving jail.