Two days after leading detectives to the remains of his childhood friend, South Hill resident Michael Breer admitted in court Thursday to beating Justin Morris to death with two iron skillets and a golf club after a dispute of some kind in 2013.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin handed down a high-end sentence of 18 years, four months in prison after Breer pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
“Whatever the circumstances, this young man did not deserve to die,” Nevin said as a courtroom packed with Morris’ family and friends looked on.
It was an abrupt ending for a case that had dragged on for nearly two years.
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Sheriff’s detectives began investigating in July 2013 after a friend of Breer’s called 911 to say Breer had told him he’d killed Morris, 18, and needed help disposing of the body.
Investigators went to Breer’s home, where Morris had been living temporarily, and found evidence of a violent and bloody encounter, but no body.
Breer later said “something” happened after Morris came at him with a knife, but he declined to provide further details about what precipitated the attack.
Prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder and several counts of possession of child pornography after detectives found sexual photographs on his phone. The child-porn counts were dropped as part of the plea deal.
Breer’s lawyer, Leslie Tolzin, said Thursday the photos were not child porn.
The case was to go to trial this week, but Breer decided to make a plea deal with prosecutors: He’d show detectives where he hid Morris’ body in exchange for a reduced murder charge.
On Tuesday, he made good on his part of the bargain, leading detectives to a wooded area near Emerald Ridge High School where they found Morris’ remains.
Deputy prosecutors Stephen Penner and Mark Sanchez upheld their part of the deal Thursday, amending the original charge from first-degree to second-degree murder.
Breer then admitted he beat Morris, who he’d known since childhood, with the frying pans and golf club. Morris’ mother, Tracey Morris, wept softly as Nevin read Breer’s statement about what happened.
Before Breer’s sentencing, Tracey Morris said her only child was well-liked in the South Hill community, quick with a joke or to lend a hand to a friend.
“I don’t forgive, because this should have never happened,” she said. “Justin wouldn’t have done anything to hurt anybody.”
Morris’ aunt, Katrina Allen, also addressed the court. Allen said Breer stole a loveable young man from his family.
“He saw his pain. He probably saw his last breath,” Allen told Nevin. “It’s not fair. None of it’s fair.”
Tolzin declined to make a statement on his client’s behalf, and Breer, too, held his peace, a fact that upset Tracey Morris.
“He’s a coward for not saying anything,” she said outside court. “Obviously, he doesn’t regret what he’s done.”
Still, Tracey Morris said, she’s glad Breer finally took detectives to her son’s body.
“We have him home,” she said. “I think that’s the biggest key. We have him home.”