PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona man pleaded guilty Friday in the brutal death more than a decade ago of a police informant who revealed details of a botched heist of nearly $1 million in steroids from a FedEx truck outside a Phoenix pharmacy.
Mikhail Drachev, 31, fled the country and lived as a fugitive in Canada for six years before being turned in by a girlfriend and brought back to Arizona to be tried in the killing of Konstantin Simberg, 21.
His plea on Friday brings an end to a notorious criminal case that played out in the Phoenix area in the final months of 2001.
Authorities say Drachev and two other men kidnapped Simberg as he talked to a detective on a phone in a Phoenix apartment. The men beat Simberg with brass knuckles, bound him with duct tape and drove him to a stretch of remote desert about 90 miles north of Phoenix.
Once there, the attackers stabbed Simberg, pinned him down with rocks, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. One man convicted in the killing said he could hear Simberg screaming as the men left the scene. The next day, hunters found Simberg's body near a creek.
Drachev pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated assault. His plea agreement calls for a prison sentence of at least 32 years. He could face several more years in prison on one conviction on which there was no agreed-upon term.
Sentencing is set for Aug. 15.
As part of his plea, one of Drachev's lawyers said her client struck Simberg with brass knuckles, held him against his will and that one of his accomplices in the kidnapping caused Simberg's death.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jeanne Garcia asked Drachev whether this account was accurate. "Yes," responded Drachev, a thin man with glasses and a heavy beard.
The saga began with a plot to hijack 6,000 vials of human growth hormone from a FedEx shipment to a pharmacy and have a group of high school students move boxes of the drugs from the delivery truck to another vehicle.
But the theft was bungled at every turn. The driver of the FedEx truck refused to cooperate in the heist and delivered the drugs to a pharmacy. The participants then tried to stage a burglary of the business.
© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.