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Victims' Family Speaks of Forgiveness At Tony Friend's Sentence

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A Springfield man received two life sentences for the murders of a Willard couple. The victims' family members spoke of forgiving him for the deaths of their loved ones at his sentencing.
A Springfield man will serve two life sentences for the murders of a Willard couple.  Tony Friend received his punishment today for the 2011 deaths of Rebecca and Russell Porter.

The couple disappeared in April of 2011 and were found dead months later in Taney County. 

Friend was arrested in June of 2012 on drug charges and investigators suspected he could have a connection to the Porters' disappearance. 

Taney County Prosecutor Jeff Merrell says Friend starts telling people weeks before the Porter's disappearance that he is going to be paid $100,000 by Robert Campbell. In other words, Campbell hired Friend to kill Russell (Rusty) and Rebecca Porter.  

Friend was going to receive $100,000 for "two birthdays".  The state was prepared to present evidence that Robert Campbell did "hire and enlist" Tony Friend to kill the Porters.

Eventually, Friend was charged and pleaded guilty to both counts of first degree murder. 

Family members of Russell and Rebecca Porter had a chance to address the court on Thursday. They spoke of forgiving Friend for the deaths of their loved ones.

Corey Ellsworth, Rebecca's son gave an emotional speech. 

"Jesus loves you, and he will forgive you for what you have done," says Ellsworth. "All you have to do is accept him, and he will love you like you can never imagine, and he will never leave you, or ever forsake you." 

At the end of his statement, Ellsworth holds up a Bible and asks the judge, "Can I give this to Tony?"

The judge gives Ellsworth permission to pass the Bible to the Prosecutor and he does.

Other family members stood in front of the court and gave Friend their forgiveness.

"God says in his word we have to forgive others or we will not be forgiven, so in that sense I have to forgive you, and I do," says Russel Porter's mother.

"May God grant you peace at the end of your suffering even though you are  the cause of mine," says Lauren Stewart, the daughter of Russel.

"I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, God will forgive you if you truly ask him to," says another family member.

These words from the victims' family came after Friend was sentenced for murdering their family members, the Porters.  Hands trembled and tears fell.

"Tony, two of the most important things she's taught me are salvation and forgiveness," says Ellsworth as tears fall down his face.

"When I see your face I think of my father's last words to me.  'I love you,'" says Lauren Stewart, Rusty's daughter, during her statement. 

Meanwhile, Friend kept a blank face. 

Tom Jacquinot, Friend's attorney commented after the sentencing. 

"A life sentence with no parole was the minimal sentence and that's the sentence we knew was going to happen," says Jacquinot.

Prosecutor Jeff Merrell also commented on what happened in the courtroom. 

"Today I think the tone overall was a very positive one," says Merrell. "I think the family of those victims is to be commended for that.  It was a lot of interest and genuine interest in the eternal salvation of Tony Friend, even though he killed their loved ones."

Four other people were charged for the Porters' deaths.  Tony Friend's wife, Windy, faces first degree murder, along with Dusty Ray Hicks and Robert Campbell.  Their trials are all later this year.

Phillip Friend, Tony Friend's son, has pleaded guilty to two counts of second degree murder and felonious restraint.  He will not be sentenced until he testifies in the upcoming trials.
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