The Bucks County hunter who shot and killed 18-year-old Jason Albert Kutt at Nockamixon State Park in October pleaded guilty on Wednesday, June 7, 2021, and was sentenced to seven to 20 years in state prison.
Kenneth Troy Heller, 52, of Warminster, 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.
Kutt, of Sellersville, had been sitting with his girlfriend at the edge of the lake, waiting for the sun to set, when he was shot once in the back of the head, around 5:15 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2020. Kutt was pronounced dead two days later.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey L. Finley said he received dozens of letters from relatives and friends of Jason Kutt, describing the impact the teen’s death had on the community. At Wednesday’s sentencing, Kutt’s father, mother and sister, and the mother of Kutt’s girlfriend, gave emotional statements.
“There is no recovering from this,” his father said. “Our hearts will never heal.”
Finley said 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 into the sentence.
In addition to handing down a sentence of seven to 20 years, Finley ordered Heller to pay a $10,000 fine to the victim’s next of kin, as part of one of the hunting violations.
The shooting happened near the Old Ridge Road access to the state park, across from the marina at Lake Nockamixon. Kutt's girlfriend told authorities she saw a man in an orange vest, which she described as hunting clothing, standing behind a yellow gate at Old Ridge Road, looking in their direction and then walking away. At Wednesday’s sentencing, Bucks County prosecutors played the emotional 911 call.
The investigation found that the distance from that gate to where Kutt and his girlfriend were sitting was 550 feet away.
The shooting sparked an intense investigation and for more than two months, Bucks County detectives Timothy Campbell and Michael Walp worked tirelessly on the case, tracking down three vehicles seen at the state park the day of the shooting. One of those vehicles, belonged to Heller.
Detectives interviewed Heller’s co-workers who said he did not report to work the Monday after the shooting and was visibly “shook up” when returned on Tuesday. The co-workers also told detectives that shortly after the shooting Heller gave away guns, ammunition and hunting gear.
Detectives searched Heller’s vehicle and home on Dec. 10, finding a .17-caliber Marlin rifle, ammunition for the rifle and an orange hunting vest with a 2020 hunting license issued to Kenneth Heller affixed to the back of the vest. Detectives also found metal knuckles with a dagger attached.
On Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, Bucks County detectives met with Heller, accompanied with his attorney, and he admitted to firing his .17-caliber Marlin rifle – the one located during the Dec. 10 search – from the area of the gate on Old Ridge Road, shortly after 5 p.m. and that the projectile from his rifle struck and killed the victim.
Heller admitted in court that he made no attempts to inform authorities that he took the fatal shot.
“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. "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.”
The Bucks County District Attorney's Office would also like to thank the community for responding to our plea for their help and giving us the key tip which pointed towards Mr. Heller as the killer.
Those assisting Bucks County detectives in this case were Pennsylvania State Police; Pennsylvania Game Commission; Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR); Montgomery County Detectives; Bedminster Township Police Department; Central Bucks Special Response Crime Scene Team; Dublin Borough Police Department; Montgomery Township Police Department; Pennridge Regional Police Department; Perkasie Borough Police Department; Quakertown Borough Police Department; Tinicum Township Police Department; Warminster Township Police Department; Upper Bucks Regional EMS; Point Pleasant-Plumsteadville EMS; Ottsville Fire Company; and the Bucks County Coroner's Office.
The case was prosecuted by Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris W. Rees and Assistant District Attorney Edward Furman, Jr.