FLORENCE, Ala. (WHNT) — A Lauderdale County man charged with killing his brother-in-law has been sentenced to serve life in prison after agreeing to a plea deal, according to court records.
38-year-old Robert Eugene Hastings was facing a murder charge in the death of 21-year-old Justin Kyle Merriner in 2017. On Monday, court records show Hastings agreed to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Court records show that Hastings pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect at an earlier hearing.
Investigators say Hastings and Merriner went to meet a drug dealer north of Florence. Hastings’ sister told authorities he called thirty minutes later to tell her the drug deal went bad and her husband was nowhere to be found.
Authorities later found Merriner’s car in a cornfield off Lauderdale 41 near the old Forks of Cypress plantation just north of Florence. The 21-year-old’s body was found in the passenger seat.
According to reports, Merriner had been shot to death in a drug deal “gone bad.”
Chief Deputy Richard Richey at the time said Hastings murdered Merriner, adding that Merriner’s wife, who is also Hastings’ sister, was key to solving the murder.
“She told the responding deputies that her brother, Robert Hastings, had come to their residence earlier and picked up her husband saying that he needed him to go with him to make a drug deal,” Richey stated.
According to Richey, they left in Justin Merriner’s car. A few minutes after leaving, the sister told authorities Hastings called her.
“Hastings called his sister back and asked her to come out near the Forks of Cypress and pick him up, that they had been involved in a drug deal that went bad,” Richey explained.
After taking Hastings to his apartment, the wife went back to the area with deputies. A passer-by spotted the vehicle hidden away and notified authorities.
Hastings was out of prison on parole at the time of the killing for a 2006 conviction of first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary, second-degree theft of property, third-degree burglary, third-degree theft of property and giving false information to law enforcement.
That parole was revoked once he was arrested for the murder of Merriner. He has remained in prison ever since, having now served 16 years, 10 months and 28 days of a 30-year sentence, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections.