Luther Hampson, 28, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Tuesday in the death of Jonathan Hayes, 27, who was stabbed in the neck in southwest Colorado in January 2012.
Hampson was set to go to trial on Monday to face a first-degree murder charge, which carries a prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The plea deal is for Hampson to serve 25 years in prison.
"I would rather see him stay in there 50 years plus and have him come out as an old man," said Robert Hayes, Jonathan's grandfather.
Robert Hayes said the family did receive some closure with the guilty plea. And they realize a trial could have ended in acquittal.
But it is still unsettling to think Hampson may be a free man some day, said Robert Hayes, a grazing officer for the Shiprock Chapter and a former Navajo Nation delegate. Both he and his wife, Norma, are ranchers in Shiprock.
"We don't like that they would give (Hampson) 25 years," said Norma Hayes.
Montezuma County Deputy District Attorney Tom Farrell said it was fair disposition.
Although it was a strong case and the prosecution believed it had the evidence to convict Hampson, he said there is always uncertainty when a case goes before a jury.
"No one ever expects surviving victims to be enamored with a deal because they lost the life of a loved one, and you can't quantify that," Farrell said. "The defense is trying to get the least possible sentence and the prosecution is trying to get a fair, reachable sentence. ... We try to strike a balance."
Jonathan's body was found on a county road in Dolores on Jan. 14, 2012, a week after police said he was beaten and fatally stabbed in the neck with a razor blade, according to court documents.
"Did he suffer? How does it feel to have your own blood slowly leaking out of you? We thought about terrible things like that," said Robert Hayes. "Our own grandson being found like that, I never thought anything would happen to him."
Hayes' hat, a bloody magazine and a razor handle but no blade were found a short distance away, according to court documents.
April Hawley, a Dolores woman, told investigators that about a month before Hayes' death Hampson took her to the place where Hayes' body was found and said it was a "good hiding spot." The week before Jonathan was killed, Hampson was upset with Hayes because of a "drug deal gone wrong."
According to court documents, Hawley told investigators the night Hayes was killed he and Hampson went for a walk together. Hawley said she never saw Hayes again. The next night, she saw Hampson with a bandage on his hand and he told her he had "graduated." Hawley told investigators she was a former gang member and knew the comment meant that Hampson had committed a serious crime.
The court sealed Hampson's arrest record and details of the crime were found in an affidavit to unseal Hampson's medical records because of a cut he was believed to have received while killing Hayes.
Justin Bogan, Hampson's attorney, declined to comment.
District Judge Douglas Walker will decide whether to accept or the reject the plea during a hearing scheduled for May 30.
Hampson will have to give the court a detailed description of how he killed Hayes for the judge to accept the plea agreement, according to court documents.
If the judge rejects the deal, Hampson could take back his guilty plea and force a trial.
Norma Hayes said her grandson, who the family affectionately called "Chubby," was born in Shiprock in June 1984 but moved with his mother to southwest Colorado at a young age. He returned to Shiprock every summer to work at his grandparents' ranch. He attended Shiprock High School but didn't graduated, Norma Hayes said.
Jonathan Hayes worked at a saw mill in Colorado and his grandmother said he enjoyed working hard.
"He wasn't a quiet person," she said. "He was always saying Hey Grandma,' and teasing his cousins."
Ryan Boetel can be reached at rboetel@daily-times; 505-564-4644. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel.