A Tucson man confessed to killing a friend Wednesday and will have to serve every day of a 14- to 22-year prison sentence.
Nicholas Phillip Rogers, 24, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Todd Whitzel's death and will be sentenced March 4 by Pima County Superior Court Judge Teresa Godoy.
Whitzel's family reported him missing to Marana police May 15, 2011.
On Oct. 12, 2011, one of Rogers' friends told Pima County sheriff's detectives Rogers killed Whitzel, 27, and he helped dispose of the body.
The friend told detectives Rogers and Whitzel were at the Wagon Wheel Post at Picture Rocks and Sandario roads around May 12, 2011, when they got into an argument with another group of people, according to court documents. Rogers pulled a gun on the group and then fled on the back of Whitzel's motorcycle to a home on West Picture Rocks Road, the man said.
The man told detectives Whitzel fell off his motorcycle, hit his head and became delirious. They were also told Rogers decided to kill Whitzel because Whitzel "had threatened all of their lives over a drug debt."
The man said he heard two or three gunshots while he was outside smoking a cigarette and Rogers came outside shortly afterward saying he had killed Whitzel.
He told detectives he and Rogers wrapped Whitzel in a blanket, burned and buried Whitzel's body in a shallow grave and set a couch and Whitzel's motorcycle on fire.
Whitzel's body was found in Avra Valley on Oct. 12 based on what the informant told detectives, and Rogers was arrested Oct. 13.
Court documents indicate detectives and prosecutors believe Rogers has tried to have three witnesses and his own mother killed while in jail.
In exchange for his plea agreement, however, prosecutors have promised not to charge Rogers based on any evidence they have accumulated so far.
"Should any harm come to any witnesses or other parties related to the case in the future as a result of the actions of the defendant or if the defendant engages in new activities aimed at threatening or harming persons, the state will use any evidence in its possession, including evidence of defendant's activities from jail since the time of his arrest if relevant to prove those activities," the plea agreement states.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Heather Siegele has Rogers on tape asking his girlfriend to arrange for three witnesses to be "taken care of" - his 16-year-old former girlfriend, the man who helped him dispose of Whitzel's body and another friend, according to court documents.
If the three witnesses were no longer available to testify, Rogers told his girlfriend his case would go away.
In addition, a former cellmate of Rogers told detectives he agreed to kill two witnesses and Rogers' mother for $10,000 if Rogers would bail him out of jail and give him $2,500 upfront, according to court documents.
The former cellmate told detectives Rogers drew a map and provided information pertaining to one of the intended victims, but Rogers was moved to another cell before he was given the map, court documents state.
The man told detective he had planned to take the $2,500 but not carry out the plot.
The informant claimed he was hired to kill the 16-year-old girl along with the man who helped dispose of Whitzel's body. The informant said Rogers was upset with his mother for spending the $16,000 he receives every year as part of an insurance settlement.
Rogers' girlfriend, Virginia Hudson, pleaded guilty to one count of trying to influence a witness. She is facing four months to two years in prison when sentenced Feb. 22.
On StarNet: Follow the news and events at Pima County's courthouses in Kim Smith's blog, At the Courthouse, at azstarnet.com/courthouse
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or email@example.com