Jeff Engen was 24 when he was stabbed to death at a Winnipeg bar in November 2007. ((Facebook))

A former Manitoba Hells Angels member has been sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the stabbing death of a man at a now-defunct Winnipeg nightclub.

William 'Billy' Bowden, 35, pleaded guilty to manslaughter during a sentencing hearing in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

It's a sharp about-face in the high-profile case surrounding the killing of popular city bodybuilder Jeff Engen at the Empire Cabaret nightclub on Nov. 18, 2007.

Bowden had pleaded not guilty to killing the 24-year-old last year and was due to take the case to trial.

Following his guilty plea, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Rick Saull gave Bowden double-time credit for the two years he's been behind bars, bringing his total sentence to four years. The time-served sentence came as a joint recommendation between the Crown and Bowden's defence lawyer.

While Bowden admitted to punching Engen during an altercation at the bar, there was no direct evidence suggesting he had wielded the knife that killed the victim.

Bowden has been in custody since his arrest in Whistler, B.C. on Valentine's Day 2008, based on the strength of a warrant issued by Winnipeg police. RCMP officer escorted him back to Manitoba to face the manslaughter charge.

Following his court appearance Wednesday, Bowden was eligible for immediate release from custody.

Engen was stabbed in the chest after being attacked on the lower level of the Main Street nightclub. He managed to get upstairs to get help, but collapsed not far from the dance floor and died not long after despite the efforts of bar patrons to save his life.

He suffered four separate stab wounds, but it was one that pierced his heart that ultimately led to massive blood loss and death.

Not gang-related

The club closed its doors a few weeks after the killing and has since reopened under new ownership and has a new name.

Police said at the time of Bowden's arrest that the attack was not gang-related.  

Court heard Wednesday that Bowden and Engen had a history. Engen had expressed a romantic interest in a former girlfriend of Bowden's which didn't sit well with him.

Engen's family said he was enrolled in a welding course at Red River College and hoped to open his own business one day. Since his death, more than 1,000 people have joined an online memorial page dedicated to Engen.

Members of Engen's family did not attend Wednesday's hearing.

A second suspect in the killing, Matthew Wegier, remains before the courts as a co-accused in Engen's killing. He was granted bail but has since been rearrested and returned to custody for alleged bail breaches. Police have said that Wegier has gang-connections.

His trial is slated for March, 2011.