An area man pleaded guilty this month in St. Francois County to the 2016 murder of a Farmington businessman.
Anthony David Caruthers, 32, of Bonne Terre, appeared in St. Francois County Court on Friday, where he entered a guilty plea to seven charges, including second-degree murder, armed criminal action, second-degree burglary, first-degree tampering with a motor vehicle, tampering with physical evidence, resisting arrest, and escape or attempted escape from custody.
Circuit Court Judge Wendy Wexler Horn handed down a sentence of life in prison on the count of second-degree murder.
The judge gave Caruthers 30 years in prison for armed criminal action, seven years on the burglary count, and seven years for tampering with a motor vehicle. The man received four-year prison sentences for each of the three remaining counts. He was ordered to serve each term concurrently.
Before the plea, the case had been scheduled for a jury trial to begin on Aug. 2. The Missouri Attorney General's Office prosecuted the case.
Caruthers was charged after police discovered the body of Farmington businessman Michael VanStavern in the back of an SUV on Nov. 3, 2016, following a police pursuit that ended in a crash.
Another man, Jeremy Reed, 42, of Farmington, was charged with second-degree burglary and tampering with physical evidence in a felony prosecution in relation to the case. Reed entered an Alford plea in January 2018 and received a total of eight years in prison.
After their arrests, Reed and Caruthers both made statements to the police about their roles in the murder.
According to a probable cause statement, during a recorded interview, Reed explained that Caruthers killed VanStavern at the Red Cedar Lodge in Bonne Terre on Nov. 2, 2016.
Reed said Caruthers had called him and picked him up at his house in Park Hills. He told investigators that Caruthers was driving VanStavern's Porsche SUV, and Caruthers asked for his help with something but didn't initially give any details. Reed stated Caruthers, while driving him to Red Cedar Lodge, explained to him how he had killed VanStavern.
Reed told investigators they went into room 14, and Caruthers said that VanStavern's body was under the bed. Reed said he lifted up the mattress and found VanStavern.
The report states that Reed told police he helped Caruthers remove VanStavern from the motel room. He said they bought items from a local business to help them conceal the body while they took it from the motel room and placed it into the back of the Porsche.
Reed told investigators he had some of VanStavern's belongings at home. He said he and Caruthers took the items there after leaving Red Cedar Lodge.
During a subsequent questioning of Caruthers, he confessed to killing VanStavern by strangling him.
At a court hearing in 2017, the full hour-and-a-half video of Caruthers' questioning was played before the court, in which he detailed the events leading to VanStavern's murder.
In the video, Caruthers vividly described an altercation with VanStavern at Red Cedar Lodge which ultimately resulted in him strangling the victim first with his hands, and finally with a belt. The video showed Caruthers admitting to the killing multiple times, at one point saying, "I'm a murderer. I took a father away from three boys. I took myself away from my daughter."
The questioning continued, and Caruthers told investigators he then called Reed after the murder, and they both went to VanStavern's apartment in Farmington.
Caruthers said they used VanStavern's key, which he had taken off the body, to get into the apartment. He added that he and Reed removed several items, including clothing and watches, from the apartment.
Caruthers said he tried to pawn VanStavern's stolen items at multiple pawn shops in the Jefferson County area but was unsuccessful.
Caruthers and Reed also reportedly further conspired to dispose of VanStavern's body. They bought things to conceal the murder and clean the crime scene, but the morning following the murder, a trooper saw the driver of a Porsche SUV commit a traffic violation on U.S. 67 at approximately 10:30 a.m.
The driver, later identified as Caruthers, failed to stop and instead exited the highway at Desloge, headed toward Cedar Falls Road, ran through a fence and across a yard, through another fence, crashed into a tree line at the back of the house, jumped out of the SUV and fled on foot.
At the time, the pursuing officer was unsure whether there had been more than one person in the SUV, but he spotted Reed running from the wreck and gave chase, catching him a short distance away. When the officer returned to the SUV with Reed, he discovered the body, later identified as VanStavern, wrapped inside a sleeping bag.
Caruthers was located a couple of hours later, not far from the crash scene.
An autopsy the following day confirmed VanStavern had died as a result of strangulation.
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org