A Jacksonville area man who last month fatally shot
an alleged burglar as he left a neighbor's home pleaded no contest Tuesday
morning in Athens County Common Pleas Court.
According to an account of the incident as provided
by law enforcement, the shooter, 39-year-old Randy D. Richmond claimed that,
acting under the influence of a strong adrenaline rush, he shot 33-year-old
Keith "P.J." Rutter in an attempt to keep him from escaping, and also out of
fear that he might attack Richmond with a knife.
Richmond reportedly told officers he never planned to
kill Rutter, only to stop him. He pleaded to two charges including reckless
homicide, a third-degree felony, and negligent homicide, a first-degree
misdemeanor, in the June 20 shooting death of Rutter, who lives in the same
It appears that more serious charges, such as murder,
weren't pressed, since the fatal shooting didn't appear premeditated or
Athens County Common Pleas Judge George P. McCarthy
agreed to hold Richmond's plea in abeyance as he completes an agreed-upon
three-year divergence program through the Athens County Prosecutor's Office.
The agreement orders Richmond to remain a law-abiding
citizen, complete 60 hours of community service, pay restitution of $1,000 to
pay for funeral costs, and make monthly contact with a supervising officer, as
well as pay court costs.
Should Richmond violate any of these conditions,
McCarthy said, the court has his no contest plea in hand, and could proceed to
sentencing, which could result in a five-year prison term.
Rutter's mother, Nannette Justus, attended the court
proceeding and told Judge McCarthy that she endorses the plea agreement. (A
letter from Justus appears in today's Athens
NEWS opinion section.)
Blackburn presented the court with the facts of the
case, as gathered by sheriff's investigators, reporting that on June 20 Athens
County 9-1-1 got a call from Richmond's wife that a man they identified as
Rutter was walking past their Taylor Ridge Road home, and that her husband,
Randy, was outside watching the man. Taylor Ridge is located in the
Soon after, Richmond reportedly called Athens County
9-1-1 to report that he just shot a man with a .22 rifle as he was leaving
Richmond's mother-in-law's house and yard, located nearby. Numerous Athens
County Sheriff's Office personnel and Athens County EMS responded to the scene.
Blackburn said that Richmond was located in the brush
off Taylor Ridge Road in close proximity to Rutter, who was lying on the
ground. After checking for Rutter's vital signs, paramedics advised sheriff's
officers that Rutter was dead.
Sheriff's Det. Brice Fick provided a narrative of the
events in a Sheriff's Office report provided by County Prosecutor Keller
Blackburn to the court Tuesday:
"Richmond stated that he was sitting at the computer
in his home, and his wife was in the living room when she alerted Richmond that
'there goes that guy up the road,'" the report stated. "This was explained as
the Rutter subject who lives down the road and is a suspect in multiple
burglaries in the area, including at least three to Richmond's mother-in-law's
Richmond stated in the report that he grabbed his
rifle and exited the house and moved to the rear of his house toward the rear
of his mother-in-law's house through a field behind both houses, the report
Richmond told investigators that he arrived at the
rear of his mother-in-law's home and knelt down in the weeds and began watching
and listening for where the burglary suspect might be.
As his mother-in-law mowed her lawn, Richmond stated
that he witnessed the burglary suspect exit the rear of her home.
"Richmond stated that Rutter was moving quickly
across the back porch toward the fence separating the wooded area from the
yard," the report recounted. "Richmond explained that as Rutter was moving
across the porch, he lost sight of the man due to a building that obstructed
his vision. He then noticed Rutter come off the porch and enter the back yard
and move toward the end of the fence."
He said that he witnessed Rutter place a folding
knife into a case, and at that time he yelled at Rutter to stop but Rutter did
not acknowledge him yelling.
"Richmond then moved to the yard area and began to
follow Rutter toward the edge of the fence," the report continued. "Richmond
stated that he stopped at the edge of the fence and fired three rounds into the
air and continued yelling for Rutter to stop. Richmond stated that Rutter
continued to move toward the woods up the hill."
Richmond then moved to the wooded side of the fence
and said he could see Rutter approximately 15 yards away and moving through
tall weeds. He said he fired two or three more rounds, this time toward Rutter,
adding that he was firing low, at his legs, trying to get him to stop.
The account continued, "He (Richmond) stated that
shortly after firing at him, Rutter yelled, 'stop, you got me, I'm done. You
got me. I'm down,'" and Richmond replied by telling him to stay where he was
stopping, and that the Sheriff's Office was coming.
According to the narrative, Richmond told officers
that he fired the shots because "he didn't want Rutter to get away (and) was
afraid he'd come back with the knife." In addition, Richmond reportedly told
officers that during the incident "his adrenaline was rushing and it was hard
to focus." When Fick asked
Richmond again where he had been aiming the gun when he fired, Richmond
allegedly said he had been aiming at Rutter's "lower legs area," and that he
"wasn't trying to kill him; he just didn't want him to get away."
Richmond also reportedly attempted CPR to no avail.
According to Athens County Coroner Dr. Harold
Thompson, the preliminary cause of death in Rutter's case was a gunshot wound
to his left side torso.
On June 26, Richmond and his defense attorney, K.
Robert Toy, along with Sheriff's Det. Fick, Prosecutor Blackburn and two
investigators from the Prosecutor's Office, traveled to the area of the
incident and filmed a re-enactment of what happened, including the shooting of
Rutter as he fled up the hill into the woods, having been hit in brush between
two trees from a distance of approximately 65 feet away.
Blackburn said after the court hearing that shell
casings collected at the scene fit this narrative. He characterized the
shooting during the incident as a "very unlucky shot," noting that Richmond hit
Rutter uphill through trees and foliage with limited, if any, visibility, and
without taking careful aim.
The prosecutor said that Richmond acted negligently
and recklessly but not with malice and called it a "terrible mistake."
"What needs to be clear to the public is that he did
not have the right to shoot him," Blackburn said after the plea hearing. "This
is not allowed, (but) a lot of people in the same situation would've been
firing a gun at Mr. Rutter running away… What this does is acknowledge this is
an illegal activity and holds him accountable."
In a written release after the hearing, Blackburn is
quoted as saying that after a meeting with Rutter's mother, Justus, "it is
clear that Mr. Richmond was not justified (in shooting Rutter) under the Castle
Doctrine or self-defense. Also clear is the fact that Mr. Rutter had an
extensive substance abuse problem and was responsible for many burglaries."
Richmond, according to the release, told Justus that he wished he could have
had a chance to help convict Rutter and put him in prison, but Blackburn noted
that no criminal case file on Rutter's alleged property crimes was ever
presented to his office.
As mentioned earlier in this article, Rutter's
mother, Justus, also had a letter read by Blackburn during the proceeding.
It reads, in part, "I want the public to know that
P.J. was no monster and would never intentionally hurt anyone. His drug
addiction took control over his life and created the theft. If P.J. could have
controlled his behavior he would have. He reached out to several people over
the years but always slipped back into his addiction."
Justus wrote that attempts at rehabilitation failed
and asked the public to understand the seriousness of drug addiction and to
help those struggling with addiction to get help.
"I would like to apologize to the public for what my
son has done to anyone," she wrote, "but have respect for me because I was his
mother, and I have lost part of my heart."