A Warminster man has agreed to plead guilty to charges in the death of a teenager he accidentally shot while hunting in Nockamixon State Park, Bucks County, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Jason Kutt, 18, was sitting with his girlfriend on a bank of Lake Nockamixon on Oct. 24 when Kenneth Heller fired a shot that hit him in the neck from about 500 feet away, authorities said.
District Attorney Matthew Weintraub characterized the fatal shooting as a “terrible lapse in judgment” by a hunter who thought he was firing at prey, and said that Heller has cooperated with investigators since he was identified as a suspect in the ensuing days.
“I do not believe it was in his heart to shoot to kill Jason Kutt,” Weintraub said at a news conference in Doylestown. “He didn’t know him, and he had no animus toward him.”
Heller, 52, was arraigned early Wednesday on criminal homicide, reckless endangerment, and related offenses. He has agreed to plead guilty to involuntary-manslaughter charges, the district attorney said.
Kutt grew up in nearby Sellersville and had graduated in June from Pennridge High School.
“He loved playing his guitars, video games, and taking walks in nature to take amazing pictures and spending time with his girlfriend,” his father, Ronald Kutt, wrote in a Facebook post. “Please remember to hug your loved ones because tomorrow is never promised.”
Heller has agreed to enter an open guilty plea to the shooting, and will likely do so after his arraignment in county court in April, Weintraub said. If sentenced to the maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter, he could face 10 to 20 years in state prison. Until that arraignment, Heller will remain in custody, denied bail due to the charges.
Heller’s attorney, Nathan Daniel Schwartz, said that the shooting was a “tragic accident” and that his heart goes out to Kutt’s family.
”I believe the statements of District Attorney Weintraub accurately set forth the tragic details and our hopeful resolution,” Schwartz said.
Kutt’s girlfriend told investigators that they were sitting near the lake that day in October as the sun was setting. Suddenly, a shot rang out, and Kutt fell forward, shot once in the back of his neck. His girlfriend turned in time to see a hunter dressed in orange about 500 feet away, standing at a gate near Old Ridge Road.
At the time of the shooting, hunters were allowed to pursue small game in the park.
Investigators were led to Heller through a “circuitous route,” Weintraub said. A close friend of Heller’s saw a news conference Weintraub held announcing the death of Kutt and asking the public for assistance.
That individual, whom Weintraub did not identify, told another friend that Heller was in the park on the day of the shooting. That second person notified county detectives, who determined that Heller’s vehicle was one of three seen leaving the park around the time of the shooting.
The top prosecutor said he agreed to the plea deal with Heller after consulting with Kutt’s family, who agreed to this resolution.
“Clearly, this is not a perfect ending; the perfect ending would be we’d have Jason back,” Weintraub said. “But that’s not how real life works. And it’s important for his family to be able to celebrate his life, rather than wallow and languish in what happened to him.”