After deliberating for fewer than two hours on Wednesday, July 18, a Morgan County jury returned a verdict of guilty on all charges in the triple murder case against Erick Shute. The verdict included three counts of first-degree murder. Each count corresponds to a victim in the June 13, 2016 triple homicide in the Valley High Timber Farms subdivision west of Great Cacapon — Jack Douglas, Travis Bartley and William Bartley Jr.
Jurors returned a verdict of guilt on each with no mercy. That means Shute, 35, will not be eligible for parole and must serve the mandatory life sentence for each. The jury of nine men and three women also found Shute guilty of attempted first-degree murder, for trying to shoot and kill a fourth man — Terry Lee Marks — during the same incident. Shute was also found guilty of wanton endangerment and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He shot the men with a 5.56 mm military-style rifle from his mother’s property following a verbal confrontation in which Shute questioned why the men were on a neighboring property. Testimony during the trial revealed that the neighboring property owner had asked the men to watch over the property in the owner’s absence. Shute claimed he shot the men in self-defense because he believed one of them had a firearm.
The verdict came at the end of the third day of testimony in a murder trial that began on Monday, July 16. Circuit Judge Steve Redding presided over the trial, which was argued by Morgan County Prosecutor Dan James and defense attorneys Andrew Arnold and Daniel Kirkland. The prosecution called 17 witnesses in making their case. Three witnesses testified for the defense.
Deliberations began at 3:25 p.m. on Wednesday and the verdict was returned at 5:20 p.m. Family member of the victims, who attended the entire trial, sighed and cried with relief as the verdict was read by Morgan County Circuit Clerk Melanie Shambaugh. One of the victims’ daughters was heard to say, “Thank God” as the guilty verdicts were returned. Shute’s mother, Linda Shute, and a high school friend of Shute were also in the courtroom for the verdict.
Judge Redding set a hearing for post-trial motions and potential sentencing in the case for September 12.