Hunter who shot and killed teen watching sunset is going to prison, PA official says
A hunter who sparked a two-month manhunt last year after killing a teenager at a Pennsylvania state park was sentenced to a prison term Wednesday, officials say.
Kenneth Troy Heller, 52, was sentenced to seven to 20 years in prison following the October death of 18-year-old Jason Albert Kutt, according to the Buck’s County District Attorney Matt Weintraub.
Kutt was sitting at the edge of a lake at Nockamixon State Park waiting to watch a sunset with his girlfriend when he was shot in the back of the head, McClatchy News previously reported. He died two days later.
“There is no recovering from this,” Kutt’s father said during a statement in court, according to the district attorney. “Our hearts will never heal.”
Kutt’s girlfriend told investigators that after her boyfriend was shot she saw a man in an orange vest and hunter clothing about 550 feet away, McClatchy News reported. Heller fled the scene following the shooting.
The district attorney said investigators tracked down three vehicles that were seen at the park the day of the shooting, one of which belonged to Heller, McClatchy News reported. Heller was zeroed in as a suspect when his coworkers said he missed a day of work and appeared visibly shaken when he returned.
When investigators searched Heller’s home and vehicle, they found a .17 caliber Marlin rifle — the same rifle Heller would later admit he shot Kutt with — along with a bright orange hunting vest, with a 2020 hunting license attached, according to a statement from the district attorney.
At the time of Heller’s arrest, Weintraub believed Heller mistook Kutt for an animal when he shot at him, WFMZ reported. Heller said in court he did not make any attempts to inform authorities he shot Kutt.
Heller was charged with criminal homicide, recklessly endangering another person, possession of an instrument of crime, possession of a prohibited offensive weapon and two hunting law violations, the district attorney announced in December.
He pleaded guilty to amended charges that include involuntary manslaughter.
Jeffrey L. Finley, the common pleas judge in Bucks County, said factors that went into the sentencing included Heller’s disregard for hunting rules and his failure to report firing the shot, according to Weintraub.
“Although the court sent a very strong message of punishment and deterrence in imposing the maximum sentence on Mr. Heller, there are no winners here,” Weintraub said in a statement. “Jason Kutt’s death is still heartbreaking. But ending this prosecution with a guilty plea, I hope Jason’s family can now remember him and grieve his loss on their own terms, separated from Mr. Heller and the criminal justice system.”
In addition to seven to 20 years in prison, Heller must pay Kutt’s family $10,000.
Kutt’s family said in a statement to WPVI last year the 18-year-old enjoyed “playing his guitars, video games and taking walks in nature.”
“Please remember to hug your loved ones because tomorrow is never promised.”