Updated: 11:12 a.m. (Editor’s Note: Previous reporting from NewsCow’s Shane Farley contributed to this article.)
ARK CITY — Justin Pierce has changed his plea to guilty following a deal with the state in the district courtroom of Judge Christopher Smith in Ark City Friday morning.
Pierce pled guilty to an amended charge of Intentional 2nd Degree Murder in the shooting death of Matthew Kelly in December 2021 in rural Ark City.
Pierce also pled guilty to aggravated assault. Other counts against him were dropped.
The state recommends a sentence of 267 months for the murder charge and 13 months for aggravated assault charge, with both sentences to run consecutively.
Sentencing will be Sept. 16 at 11 a.m. in Cowley County District Court in Winfield.
“The settlement is reflective of what the parties believe would be supported by the admissible evidence in the case,” a statement released by Cowley County Attorney Larry Schwartz to media said following Friday morning’s preceding’s. “Our legislature has given us several levels of homicide. The settlement is reflective of what the parties believe would be supported by the admissible evidence in the case.”
Schwartz said if the case were to go to jury trial, which was scheduled for Aug. 29, the state could’ve faced difficult hurdles for the initial count of murder in the first degree.
“The central issue in this case as to level of homicide was the issue of premeditation,” Schwartz said. “After thorough review, preliminary hearing, preparation of the case for jury trial, case mediation, and consideration of other jury verdicts in similar situations, it was clear that proving the element of premeditation in this particular case would be unlikely.
“There was circumstantial evidence of premeditation; however, there was no direct evidence of premeditation for the state to present to the jury.”
Four people were involved in the case, including the victim’s sister, Lisa Wise. Wise, 37, pleaded no contest in February to aggravated battery, and was convicted of arranging for her brother to be beaten up following an argument in rural Ark City, where Kelly, 34, was killed.
Amber Orr, 25, pleaded no contest for assisting in helping to dispose of Kelly’s body.
Dylan Weaver, 31, pleaded guilty to 2nd Degree Murder for his part in Kelly’s death.
Wise, Orr, and Weever are set for sentencing on Sept. 16.
NewsCow reported on March 14, it was Weaver who picked up Kelly at the Cowley County Jail in Winfield. He’d been arrested after damaging his girlfriend’s vehicle.
On the way to Wise’s home on 302nd Rd., the two men were joined by Pierce, who’d asked Weaver to pick him up on the way.
Weaver told the court that Pierce and Kelly seemed to get along and were talking as Weaver drove them all in his truck. They stopped at a convenience store for meth, but the dealer never showed.
A short time later, the three men arrived at Wise’s home. Weaver said Kelly was very upset he’d been arrested and almost immediately began yelling at his girlfriend, Candy Williams, who lived with Kelly and Wise at the house.
During court proceedings, Deputy County Attorney Christian Fazel read a narrative of events that stated Wise had contacted Pierce and told him to beat up Kelly, but not kill him. Williams told NewsCow, in a lengthy in-person interview, that Kelly had repeatedly accused Wise, his sister, of stealing money from their father.
The tension had brought authorities to Wise’s house on Dec. 1 in response to an argument between Wise and Kelly. Wise is said to have wanted Kelly evicted from her house and beaten up, too. Kelly believed people conspired to have him arrested.
Williams said she had her boyfriend arrested in hopes of getting hostilities to cool.
Weaver also testified in regard to property that Pierce and Weaver had stored at Wise’s house. Kelly knew the property, a truck and trailer out of Cedar Vale, was stolen.
Kelly was said to have threatened to turn Pierce and Weaver into authorities. The truck and trailer were taken to a remote location to be burned and Weaver testified Pierce didn’t like the idea Kelly might turn him in.
“A rat deserves to die,” Weaver said, recounting what Pierce had said about Kelly.
Things appeared to come to a head late Dec. 13 and into Dec. 14 of last year.
As Kelly returned from jail and yelled at Williams, Wise and Pierce are said to have been outside the truck. Weaver said Wise told Pierce that Kelly needed to be taught a lesson. Williams and Wise got ready to leave together.
An affidavit shows Wise is said to have told Pierce that Kelly “needed his ass whooped, but don’t kill him.”
Weaver said that even though Wise had said Kelly needed to be beaten up, it wasn’t something he was determined to do. He couldn’t say whether Pierce was intent on roughing up Kelly.
But, after the women left, a violent altercation took place during which Kelly was beaten, stabbed and shot multiple times. Weaver said Pierce fired a fatal shot at Kelly from close range with a shotgun he always kept with him that he nicknamed “baby girl.”
Cowley County deputies arrested Orr and Pierce near Oxford after discovering Kelly’s body covered in tarps in the bed of a pickup on the night of Dec. 14, 2021.