A Ramsey County district judge on Friday sentenced Robert Clarence Ward to 16 years in prison for a December slaying after first denying Ward's motion to withdraw his guilty plea in the case.

Ward pleaded guilty to unintentional second-degree murder in September. His attorney, Carole Finneran, argued Friday that he was coerced into making the plea and wanted to withdraw it. But prosecutor Richard Diffatte said the plea that Ward acknowledged and signed makes it clear he knew what he was doing.

District Judge Michael Fetsch denied Ward's motion shortly before sentencing him.

Diffatte read a letter from victim Andrew Fierro's younger brother in court. A victim advocate read letters from Fierro's older brother and twin sister. All said how kind their sibling was, how he would help anybody in need and how much they miss him.

"I still can't believe he's gone," the letter from Darrell Fierro read. Andy Fierro had planned to move back to the Winnebago Indian Reservation in Nebraska in the new year, wrote his brother, who said Andrew was a juvenile probation officer on the reservation.

Ward, 43, was accused of stabbing Fierro, 43, in the neck and arm after a drunken brawl in an apartment in St. Paul. According to court documents, the incident happened Dec. 29. Fierro's sister-in-law found his body in the bedroom of her apartment on N. Lexington Parkway on Jan. 1.

The criminal complaint said Ward told police that he and Fierro had been drinking and that he stabbed Fierro when Fierro suddenly came at him "for no reason" with a butcher knife.

"All I want to know from Mr. Ward is why? Why did he kill my brother?" Fierro's sister wrote to the court.