HOWELL (WWJ/AP) – A man has been sentenced to life in prison in the murder, mutilation and burning of a 40-year-old man a year ago in Livingston County.

Calling it a “horrific crime,” Circuit Judge David Reader sentenced 28-year-old Brian Stafford on Thursday.

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Stafford pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, saying he aided co-defendant George Tanner in the Oct. 15, 2011, slaying of Christopher Townsend.

Authorities said Stafford drove Townsend’s vehicle with the victim in the passenger seat while Tanner beat him with a wrench and strangled him with a seat belt from the backseat. The men then burned his remains, using a machete to stir the bones.

Townsend’s body was burned to the point that authorities only found about a pound of remains in a wooded area in Green Oak Township, the Livingston Daily reported.

“This was, my belief, a premeditated crime on your behalf… Not only did you kill the man, but you take his body, put it on a slab of metal and burn it and throw it into a river. You had choices. You could have prevented this,” Reader told Stafford.

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Stafford cried and asked for forgiveness from Townsend’s family in court on Thursday.

“It’s not something I wanted to happen… I want to help convict George for what he did. There’s no way to describe how bad I feel for your loss. I hope you forgive me,” Stafford said through tears.

Meanwhile, Tanner’s case remains on hold.

The prosecutor’s office is asking the state Supreme Court to overturn Reader’s ruling that the jury cannot hear Tanner’s alleged confession to police. The ruling followed testimony that indicated police didn’t tell Tanner that a lawyer was available if he wanted him.

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