A jury of nine men and three women were sworn in this morning in Morgan County Circuit Court as the murder trial of Erick Shute begins, two years after Shute shot and killed three Great Cacapon men and is alleged to have tried to kill a fourth man.
Circuit Judge Steve Redding is presiding over the trial, which is expected to continue throughout the week.
The 12-member jury and two alternates were selected by 11 a.m. from 77 potential jurors who filled the Morgan County courtroom on Monday, July 16.
Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney Dan James began his opening statement to the jury at 11:25 a.m.
“On June 13, 2016, Erick Shute took the law into his own hands,” James told the jury.
He showed an aerial photo of three Valley High Timber Farms properties involved in the case. James showed crime scene photos of the three shooting victims – Jack Douglas, Travis Bartley and William Bartley – lying on either side of Douglas’ pickup truck on the property next to the Shute residence on the afternoon of June 13.
James told the jury the three men were on the property, owned by the late Clarence McBee, because McBee’s family wanted them to keep an eye on the place.
Shute, he argued, had words with the three men about why they were there, then used an assault rifle to shoot the three as they stood next to the pickup truck.
James also showed post-mortem photos of the victims and their gunshot wounds during his 25-minute opening statement.
Defense attorney Andrew Arnold told the jury that much of the evidence in the murder case against his client is not disputed.
He said Shute didn’t know the men were authorized to be on the property and thought they were at the neighboring trailer to burglarize it. Arnold told the jury that a murder verdict would require them to find Shute had malice and ill-will toward the victims at the time he shot them.
Arnold said Shute was in fear for his life after the men exchanged words over the property fence between them.
“In his fight or flight moment, he chose fight,” said Arnold as he closed his 10-minute statement.
Erick Shute has remained in jail since he was arrested in June of 2016. He was seated in the courtroom dressed in a suit and tie.
Member of the victims families were present during opening statements and could be heard crying as photos of the victims were shown to the jury.