Four men have pleaded guilty in the unprovoked beating death of an Independence man last summer at a church parking lot.

Four men have pleaded guilty in the unprovoked beating death of an Independence man last summer at a church parking lot.

 Jackson County judges accepted the guilty pleas of Jacob W. Shaffer, 19, Michael W. Russi, 19, Joseph Delgado, 20, and Justin Trotter, 21.

They all pleaded guilty to first-degree involuntary manslaughter, said Jackson County Assistant Prosecutor Patrick Edwards.

Prosecutors had charged them all with second-degree murder but worked out a plea bargain of manslaughter, a lesser charge.

It’s unknown what the penalties the men could be facing.

“That’s going to up to the judges,” Edwards said.

The plea hearings for the four all happened within the last month, Edwards said. Shaffer’s hearing was Tuesday and Russi’s was Monday. The other two happened a few weeks ago.

The case drew close attention from local media and drew an intense investigation from police detectives because of its brutality and shocking randomness.

Steve Bertling and two friends were playing basketball at the parking lot of the Church of Jesus Christ Farview Restoration Branch at 11400 E. 24th St. It was early morning on Aug.15, 2009.

The four men, some of whom were drinking an alcoholic energy drink called Joose, exited their vehicle and attacked Bertling and friends.

Bertling and company did nothing to provoke the attack, according to police, which made the case unique in its brutality.

Detectives expressed concern when investigating. Their thought was that it could’ve been anybody.

Bertling was punched in the head. He fell to the asphalt. The defendants continually kicked and punched him. He died in a hospital hours later of  trauma to the head and neck.

Bertling’s family could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

WHAT'S NEXT

 Michael Russi will be sentenced on July 30.

 

 Joseph Delgado will be sentenced on July 16.

 

 Justin Trotter will be sentenced on July 16.

 

 Jacob Shaffer’s sentencing date wasn’t available.