The man charged with fatally shooting U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Anderson at close range in Marrero on Jan. 1, 2014, pleaded guilty Monday to a reduced charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Darwin Bethune, 28, was set to go to trial this week before Judge Adrian Adams in 24th Judicial District Court and faced life in prison if convicted as charged of second-degree murder.
He instead took the plea deal offered by prosecutors, which included also admitting to unauthorized entry and identity theft, for which he was sentenced to six years and five years respectively, in addition to the 30 years for manslaughter.
Adams ordered the three sentences to be served concurrently, and prosecutors dropped charges of obstruction of justice and inciting a felony.
In accepting the deal, Bethune, who is from New Orleans East, admitted to the ambush killing of Anderson, 31, who at the time had just dropped off his three children at the Ray Street home of his in-laws.
Investigators with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office said Bethune killed Anderson in the belief he could get his hands on a half-million-dollar insurance settlement because he was dating Anderson's ex-wife.
A decorated soldier, Anderson had served three tours of duty in the Middle East. The Toyota 4Runner he was driving was found abandoned the next morning.
His killer did not take his wallet or credit cards.
Investigators said they do not believe that Anderson's ex-wife, who was visiting friends in Georgia when the killing occurred, knew anything about Bethune's plan. They said Bethune had exhibited controlling behavior and was trying to move in with the woman in the weeks before the killing.
Investigators also noticed the driver’s-side floor mat in Bethune’s Infiniti was missing and there was a bottle of peroxide in the vehicle. Blood was found in the 4Runner that authorities said was transferred from the crime scene.
The murder occurred on a night of heavy rain, and fingerprints taken were inconclusive, according to a police report.
Investigators said Bethune owned a .40-caliber Glock at the time of the killing. It was never found and he said it had been stolen from him, though he did not report it at the time. A bullet casing was never found at the scene, but a piece of a .40-caliber projectile was recovered from a nearby flower bed.
License-plate recognition cameras and cellphone records indicated Bethune was in the neighborhood in the hours leading up to the killing, though he initially told authorities he was somewhere else.
Ten days after the killing, investigators interviewed the friend he said he was with, and that man was found to have been at work in Golden Meadow when Anderson was shot.
U.S. marshals caught another girlfriend of Bethune's picking up an expedited passport for him, and she told them Bethune had said he was being framed. He eluded capture for a few more days but was arrested by New Orleans police in early February 2014.