A Tucsonan who shot a friend to death and desecrated his body told the man’s family he wishes he could bring him back.

“He didn’t deserve to die like that and I understand that now,” Nicholas Phillip Rogers, 24, told Todd Whitzel’s parents moments before he was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

Whitzel’s burned and dismembered remains were found in Avra Valley in October 2011, after an informant told Pima County Sheriff’s detectives he helped Rogers with the body after Rogers shot Whitzel to death in May 2011.

Investigators learned Whitzel owed Rogers $3,000 for a drug debt and Rogers killed Whitzel, who was asleep at the time.

Rogers pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was facing between 14 and 22 years in prison.

Following his guilty plea, Rogers told a probation officer he killed Whitzel because Whitzel had threatened to harm his family over the debt.

On Monday, Whitzel’s parents, Michael and Glenda, asked Pima County Superior Court Judge Teresa Godoy to impose the maximum sentence.

Glenda Whitzel said her son was asleep and wasn’t a threat to anyone when he was killed. She recalled how family and friends spent months in the desert looking for her son’s body only to find decomposing animals.

Once the authorities found her son’s remains, it took another four months to identify him through DNA analysis, Glenda Whitzel said. She sobbed as she recalled claims Rogers pulled her son’s teeth out before disposing of his body “like garbage.”

Michael Whitzel told the judge his grandsons have to grow up without their father and yet Rogers will be relatively young when he’s released from prison.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Heather Siegele also asked for the maximum sentence, saying Rogers tried to arrange the death of three witnesses in the case while awaiting trial.

Rogers would’ve handled Whitzel’s threats differently if he hadn’t been suffering from mental health disorders and on drugs and alcohol Assistant Pima County Public Defender Don Klein said.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com

On StarNet: Follow the news and events at Pima County's courthouses in Kim Smith's blog, At the Courthouse, at azstarnet.com/courthouse

Senior Editor, News, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Az.