A 29-year-old man's plea to second-degree murder Thursday gave prosecutors their second conviction in a fatal graveyard beating in Soddy-Daisy.
Dekota Burchard chose 25 years in prison instead of going to trial next month, where his attorney, Robin Flores, said a jury "may very well convict him of first-degree murder" and return a life sentence.
Entering what's called an Alford plea, Burchard denied any criminal wrongdoing in Tony Rector's death in 2015. Regardless, the conviction will go down on his record in Hamilton County.
Using eyewitness testimony, jailhouse phone calls and forensic evidence, prosecutors said Burchard participated in the fatal Dec. 28, 2015, beatdown of a 51-year-old man named Tony Rector who was frustrating other occupants at 10965 Dallas Hollow Road.
Upset that Rector was comforting his girlfriend after a fight, Burchard called Chad Massengale and Roy Henderson III, who came over to the home around 9 that night and began to beat up Rector outside the home, according to prosecutors.
"Witnesses gave statements that Mr. Burchard threw the first punch and knocked Mr. Rector out," prosecutor Kevin Brown said. "Individuals then carried him inside. They began to beat him with their fists and a tire iron."
After that, prosecutors said, they drove to nearby Soddy Presbyterian Cemetery, dumped a partially nude Rector on the ground and Massengale stomped on him.
Jurors found Massengale guilty of first-degree murder after a four-day trial in June. His lawyer, Steven Moore, is fighting the life sentence in a motion for a new trial in Hamilton County Criminal Court.
Henderson, meanwhile, remains in the county jail without bail. His lawyer recently asked the court to give Henderson a bond since he's unlikely to repeat the same offense and has strong community ties.
Though Massengale, Henderson and Burchard were the only ones charged with murder, others witnessed or participated in parts of the crime, according to trial testimony.
Like other defense attorneys involved in the case, Flores sought to discredit those state witnesses, namely Tiffany Sneed, a former confidential informant for the Soddy-Daisy Police Department and Massengale's on-again, off-again girlfriend.
Flores asked prosecutors for the personnel files of two Soddy-Daisy detectives who left the department before trial, court records show, and wanted to know of any potential criminal leniency Sneed received as part of her work with them.
Sneed, who has never been charged in the crime, denied any role in the beating during Massengale's trial in June, though Massengale's attorney, Moore, claimed she was in on the violence and gave multiple different statements to authorities.
None of the attorneys addressed that issue in court Thursday, but prosecutors revealed an incriminating phone call between Burchard and a Dallas Hollow Road associate who was incarcerated in the county jail. The conversation occurred Dec. 29, 2015, shortly after someone discovered Rector's body and before Burchard was charged, Brown said.
"Mr. Burchard is discussing ... the issues that people were having with Mr. Rector," Brown said. "Burchard indicates [to the other person] they took care of it."
Rector's family, who were present for Burchard's plea, declined comment afterward.
Burchard was set to stand trial Feb. 6.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.