A 33-year-old man who shot and killed his Columbia neighbor received 25 years to life in state prison Monday in Tuolumne County Superior Court.

Vernon Bowers sat silently wearing a red Tuolumne County Jail inmate jumpsuit and looking straight forward as Assigned Judge William G. Polley handed down the sentence for first-degree murder.

Without saying a word, Bowers was then escorted out of the courtroom by sheriff's deputies.

Bowers accepted a plea agreement with prosecutors last month in order to avoid life in prison without the possibility of parole.

He will be required to serve at least 25 years before he can be considered for release.

The sentence brings to end a nearly three year saga that saw Bowers serve stints in prison and county jails in both Tuolumne and Fresno counties as the murder case worked its way through the justice system.

On Oct. 26, 2009, Bowers shot neighbor Michael Keith Bates in the face with a shotgun from close range. Prosecutors theorized robbery as the motive for the murder because money from a check Bates cashed earlier that day was missing from his person and residence.

Bowers was originally implicated in the murder by fingerprints found at the scene and witnesses who told sheriff's detectives that Bowers had claimed responsibility for the killing.

In November 2009, Bowers was arrested for failing to register as a sex offender after moving from Fresno. Details of his initial conviction are sealed because the crime occurred when he was a juvenile.

Bowers served more than a year in prison before being transported to Fresno County Jail in May 2011 to face a probation violation.

Upon his transfer, Bowers was released on his own recognizance after officials apparently overlooked a Tuolumne County arrest warrant for first degree murder.

A fugitive apprehension team located Bowers days later and returned him to custody.

He was finally transferred to Tuolumne County to be arraigned on the murder charge in November 2011.

The District Attorney's Office decided not to seek the death penalty.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4530.