Although it may be cold comfort to his victim’s family and friends, law enforcement officials expressed a degree of satisfaction with the guilty plea and sentencing Wednesday of a hunter whose recklessness resulted in the death of 18-year-old Jason Kutt at Nockamixon State Park last fall.
Kutt was sitting by the lake’s edge waiting for the sun to set with his girlfriend last Oct. 24 when he was shot once in the back of the head. He later died at an area hospital, as police launched an intensive investigation in order to catch his killer.
The investigation eventually led authorities to 52-year-old Kenneth Troy Heller, of Warminster, who police determined was hunting when he fired the shot that struck Kutt from approximately 550 feet away.
At the hearing at which he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person, possession of an instrument of crime, possession of a prohibited offensive weapon and two hunting law violations Wednesday, the court heard the frantic 911 call made by Kutt’s teenage girlfriend immediately after he was struck.
She would later tell authorities she had seen a man wearing an orange vest–which she described as hunting clothing–behind a yellow gate at the Old Ridge Road access to the lake and looking in their direction before walking away.
According to a Bucks County District Attorney’s office news release about the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing, “Heller admitted in court that he made no attempts to inform authorities that he took the fatal shot.”
The release indicated that in preparing to sentence Heller, Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey L. Finley said he had received dozens of letters describing the impact of Jason Kutt’s death on his family, friends and the community of Sellersville.
Finley cited “the impact to the community, Heller’s reckless disregard of the rules of hunting and his failure to report what he had done to law enforcement factored” in sentencing Heller to serve 7 to 20 years in state prison and ordering him to pay a $10,000 fine to Kutt’s family as remuneration for one of the hunting violations.
Kutt’s father, mother and sister, as well as the mother of Kutt’s girlfriend, were also in court to give emotional statements, the district attorney’s office said.
“There is no recovering from this,” Kutt’s father said. “Our hearts will never heal.”
Kutt’s family and the community were haunted by the lack of a suspect in the case until the investigation by Bucks County detectives led to Heller’s arrest in late December.
The district attorney’s office thanked the community for responding to its plea for help solving the case and providing the tip which led to Heller’s identification as the killer.
“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,” District Attorney Matt Weintraub said Wednesday. “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.”