by Trish Rudder
Erick D. Shute, 35, was sentenced to three life sentences without the possibility of parole plus 15-18 years in prison on Wednesday afternoon, September 12 in Morgan County Circuit Court by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge R. Steven Redding. Shute killed three men and attempted to kill a fourth in Great Cacapon in June, 2016.
During last week’s sentencing, Judge Redding sentenced Shute to one life sentence for each of three men he shot and killed on June 13, 2016 — Jack Douglas, William Bartley Jr., and Travis Bartley.
On count four, the sentence was three to 15 years imprisonment for the attempted murder of Terry Marks. On count five, the sentence was five years of imprisonment for wanton endangerment with a firearm, and on count six, the sentence was 10 years of imprisonment for the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Judge Redding said that each of these convictions is to run consecutive to the others.
A Morgan County jury convicted Shute of all counts at the end of a three-day trial in July.
Before the sentencing, five family members or friends of the victims spoke with emotion. Darrie Stonebraker said “a fourth victim has to relive your crazed behavior from now on… you ran like a coward… but you must face God some day….
William Bartley’s daughter, Beth, said, “God’s going to get you, Erick. The day you take your last breath, you will be shown no mercy.”
Shute shook his head “no” while the family members spoke. When he addressed Judge Redding before receiving his sentences, he spoke angrily and said his actions were a “completely justifiable defense. These guys were trying to kill me,” he said.
Shute said he listened to his attorney and “we did not bring forth any people on my behalf. I have multiple letters on my behalf.” He said he wanted to reopen the case.
Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney, Dan James, said “we cannot re-litigate this trial” and Judge Redding agreed. Before the sentences were read, James said, “In quoting Mr. Shute, I think it’s time to take out the trash.”
In reading the sentencing, Judge Redding said, “Mr. Shute, you have maintained from day one that you had no choice but to use deadly force against these three victims. If you honestly believe that, you are living in a parallel universe. The first choice you had was not to approach the people on the adjoining property at all. You could have called 911 and reported the activity as suspicious. You didn’t.
“The second choice you could have made differently was taking a rifle with you to confront the victims,” Redding continued. “This very act escalated the situation. Had you not taken a rifle, it is likely the exchange would not have escalated as it did. Nonetheless, even after deciding to take a rifle with you, once the discussion became confrontational you could have backed away and called 911. You didn’t.
“The next profound mistake you made was shooting Travis Bartley because you thought he was reaching for a weapon. As we now know, the four victims did not have a weapon. Had you waited just a moment, you would have known that. The next deliberate choice you made was immediately turning the weapon on Jack Douglas. Mr. Douglas was not presenting any threat to you at all. Nonetheless, you chose to shoot him in the back. That is not an act of self-defense, it is an act of cowardice.
“The next conscious choice you made was shooting Travis Bartley a second time. Travis Bartley was shot in the abdomen and in the back. Either shot would have rendered him incapable of posing a threat, yet with premeditation you shot him a second time. The last poor choice you made was shooting William Bartley. Having just witnessed his son as well as his friend executed by you he could not have possibly been a threat, yet you chose to shoot him in the face. The medical examiner’s report establishes that he was shot in the left side of his face. He wasn’t even looking at you when you executed him. Again, an act of cowardice. In short, how this tragedy unfolded was governed in large part by your poor decisions,” Judge Redding said.
“In sentencing you, Mr. Shute, I want to send a message to any future vigilante, any future member of our community who considers for even a moment taking the law into their own hand. I want them to understand that they will suffer profound and painful consequences for such a decision. I want them to remember Erick Shute. I want them to reflect on the fact that you will never have the joy of watching your bride walk down the aisle; that you will never experience the wonder of observing the birth of your child; that you will never again touch your toes in the ocean; that every sunrise and sunset you view for the remainder of your days will be through a window and concertina wire; that you will not be present with your mother during her last days and will not be present when she is laid to rest. I want future Erick Shutes to think of everything you have lost as a result of your criminal decisions. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that this never happens again in Morgan County,” Judge Redding said.
Judge Redding said Shute has gained no insight into the profound mistakes in judgment he made on June 13, 2016.
On that day, in the Valley High Timber Farms subdivision west of Great Cacapon, Shute shot the three 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. Shute testified that he knew that William Bartley normally carried a revolver and believed the other men could have been armed. At one point, Douglas told then men he was calling the police. Shute testified that he didn’t believe Douglas when he said he was calling 911.
Shute testified that after shooting the men, he climbed over the fence at his property line and looked at the bodies of the victims. He said he saw a cell phone in Douglas’ hand and saw that Douglas had, in fact, dialed 911.
Shute testified had not intended to kill the men when he walked to the property line with his rifle and had no ill will toward them, but the prosecuting attorney said recorded conversations were obtained where Shute had told his mother after the killings that he had “taken out the trash,” in reference to Douglas and the Bartleys.
Before Judge Redding read Shute’s sentencing, Shute said, “I’m not an attorney and don’t understand this proceeding.”
He said he has been “robbed, beat up and extorted” in Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg. He asked Judge Redding to speed up the process to get him into the penitentiary.
Judge Redding answered that he could not speed up the process.
“You will have a right to appeal,” he said.
Shute must file a notice of intent to appeal with the clerk of the circuit court within 30 days, and his actual appeal must be filed with the supreme court of appeals within 120 days, Judge Redding said.