PROVO -- Flanked by his attorney and dressed in an orange-striped jail jumpsuit Tuesday morning, a known drug dealer admitted his role in a Provo contract killing.
During a hearing, Yuri Lara, 32, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, a second-degree felony, as well as five first-degree felonies related to drug possession and distribution and a third-degree felony for possession of a firearm by a restricted person. The pleas were the result of a deal with prosecutors, who downgraded two counts of aggravated murder to a single manslaughter charge and dismissed seven other charges.
The charges stem from a May 2011 contract killing that resulted in the death of Andy Purcell. According to prosecutors, Lara paid Darrell Morris an ounce of methamphetamine for the killing because he believed Purcell had snitched on him. Morris brought Danny Logue with him to the killing. Both men now face murder charges.
Lara agreed to forego the usual delay between pleading and sentencing Tuesday and was ordered to spend up to life in prison. Specifically, he was sentenced to five years to life in prison for each of his first-degree felony drug charges, one to 15 years in prison for manslaughter and zero to five years in prison for firearm possession. However the judge ruled that all the sentences could run concurrently, meaning the penalty effectively amounts to five years to life behind bars.
The sentence also will result in Lara's eventual deportation. According to prosecutor Curtis Larson, Lara is in the country legally on a green card, but will be sent back to Guatemala when he finishes his sentence.
During Lara's hearing, Larson went over the details of the case, explaining that Lara erroneously believed Purcell was the snitch in a separate drug case. Purcell had sold a car to Lara but hadn't been paid, and the two men were known to have engaged in mutual drug activity.
As a result, Larson said, when Purcell's family found him lying in a driveway with a gunshot wound in the head they identified Lara as a possible suspect.
An investigation eventually revealed that a man named Billy Thompson introduced Lara and Morris. During a preliminary hearing last month, Thompson testified that following the shooting he saw Lara singing and dancing, saying "Andy's dead, Andy's dead."
Larson explained after Tuesday's hearing that though evidence showed Lara hired Morris, he only ordered him to beat Purcell up. Larson called the crime reckless and described Morris and Logue as known drug users, but said the nature of Lara's order contributed to the plea bargain and the reduction of the murder charges to manslaughter.
According to Larson, prosecutors have not made a deal with Lara to testify against Morris and Logue.
Also Tuesday morning, Morris and Logue pleaded not guilty to murder charges. Both men, who are in prison, were surrounded by guards and attorneys in court. At the judge's prompting, Morris quietly entered his plea, then Logue spoke up more loudly.
"Absolutely not guilty," he said.
Both men were ordered to return to court Oct. 30 for another hearing.