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Tuesday, July 23,2013

Man who shot burglar to death given diversion

Authorities didn't press murder charges because of circumstances of crime

By David DeWitt
Photo Credits: Kevin Riddell
Photo Caption: Randy Richmond, left, and his attorney, K. Robert Toy, listens while Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn gives details about the shooting incident that killed Keith "P.J." Rutter near Glouster June 20. Richmond, accused of firing a shot that killed Rutter, took a negotiated plea in the case.

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 area.

It appears that more serious charges, such as murder, weren't pressed, since the fatal shooting didn't appear premeditated or deliberate.

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 Glouster-Jacksonville area.

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 home."

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 said.

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."


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No winners here, so sad. 



Warning shots?


Either the guy was a threat, or he wasn't.

I am a big believer in the right of self-defense, but this wasn't self-defense.



What Ann said.

I wholeheartedly agree that killing a person who is clearly in retreat is not at all acceptable. 1. Death is not an appropriate punishment for burglary. 2. Private citizens are not entitled to pass and carry out their own sentences for crimes.

That said, I'm not 100% certain I wouldn't have behaved similarly to Mr. Richmond. Burglarly is an infuriating crime and if I had been in those circumstances - a known thief en route to breaking into a neighbor's (a relative no less) home for the fourth time - I may well have reached for a gun as too.

With respect to Mr. Rutter and his mother's words, I think folks who dismiss the incomprehensible effects of drug addiction are exhibiting a gross lack of knowledge and experience on the subject. Applying a strict doctrine of personal responsibility is an easy answer and not entirely without merit, but it does nothing to bring us all closer to a solution or even management of such a huge issue.