Darren Bonner, 24, from Sunderland, was found naked and unresponsive in a shallow grave behind a dry stone wall at Cresswell in Northumberland in July last year.
He had been choked by Richard Spottiswood, his boss at the South Shields garage where he worked, after he accused him of double-crossing him over drug dealing that both were involved in.
Mr Bonner was barely alive, and had suffered irreversible brain damage. He never regained consciousness before dying in hospital 16 days later.
Today, Spottiswood, 34, from Jarrow, was jailed for life at Newcastle Crown Court after being convicted of his murder following a two-week trial.
Spottiswood's girlfriend, Lucy Burn, 30, from South Shields, was also jailed for 30 months, after admitting assisting an offender.
In a victim impact statement, Mr Bonner's mum Louise Tumilty said her son was a "lovely, friendly, character", but also vulnerable and easily led, as he was loyal and trusting.Ms Tumilty said when the police came to her door to tell her Darren - who she'd "had a good old giggle" with over the phone just days before - had been found severely injured, her "world imploded".The devastated mum, who went to her son's bedside in intensive care, said: "My beautiful, strong man was so small and weak and hurt."We had hope for the first seven days, then we got the talk. After the talk after the machines were turned off. I was told five minutes to five hours and my son would pass."Darren wasn't ready to leave. He fought for a further nine days. His body was so strong, but we had to slowly watch him waste away."He surprised everyone with his fight and strength. The nurses called him 'lion heart'."Mrs Tumilty added: "He was no threat to those who destroyed his and our lives. I hope they suffer every minute of every day forever for doing this, as I am."
She added: “My Darren was a beautiful soul and would go out of his way to help people, especially his friends, who he thought of as family.
“He was so loyal and trusted them. He only thought the best of people. He wanted to fit in and belong. He had so many friends in so many places.
“Our family miss him so much. There’s not a day when I don’t think of Darren.”
Darren's family thanked the staff at Cramlington intensive care unit for their ‘care and support’, and also Northumbria Police for helping to get justice for him.
His ashes have since been made into fireworks and were set off on his birthday, with all his family and friends there to see him off on his new adventures.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Fairlamb, from Northumbria Police, said he was pleased that Spottiswood, who he described as 'a dangerous man', has been locked up.
He said: "This has been a tragic time for Darren Bonner’s family, and my thoughts go out to them. I absolutely have to commend their bravery throughout this ordeal.
“Even after Spottiswood admitted to choking Darren, he has continued to go on and defend his actions claiming it was an accident.
“The fact that Darren was left in such a critical condition – barely breathing and lying in a shallow grave – absolutely shows how truly cold and despicable Spottiswood is.
“Darren was only 24 years old when his life was cruelly taken, and he will be greatly missed by his family and friends.”