ST. GEORGE – A judge ruled Monday that there was probable cause to move forward with charges against a LaVerkin man accused of murder.
John Stettler Stucki, 55, of LaVerkin, appeared in 5th District Court Monday before Judge John Walton for a preliminary hearing. Stucki is accused of killing Donald George Loomer, 64, following a brawl between the two that occurred Oct. 9, 2013.
Washington County Deputy Attorney Ryan Shaum requested that the judge bind Stucki over for trial, telling the court the prosecution believed it had met the burden of proof needed to justify the first-degree felony murder charge Stucki currently faces.
Edward Flint, Stucki’s attorney, said he didn’t believe the evidence supported such a charge, but rather manslaughter with a strong case for self-defense would be a more fitting charge.
The detective’s testimony
Former LaVerkin Police Detective Travis Romney was the officer who responded to a 911 call that originated from a residence in LaVerkin at approximately 9:30 p.m. the day of the incident. When he arrived on scene, Romney found a man, later identified as Loomer, lying in a driveway. Romney observed the man had shallow breathing, bruises on his face, lacerations to the back of the head and dried blood on his hands.
A medical crew was called in to attend to Loomer. After the medical crew’s arrival, Life Flight was called in to take Loomer to University Medical Center in Las Vegas. Loomer died while being transported, Romney said.
A coroner in Clark County, Nevada, determined Loomer died from hemorrhaging caused by blunt force trauma to the head.
Romney then encountered Stucki at the scene. Stucki appeared to have a large bruise and laceration on the side of his head and also had dried blood on his hands that did not appear to be his own.
Stucki was stumbling around and slurring his speech due to apparent intoxication, Romney said. When asked by the detective if he knew the man in the driveway, Stucki answered he did not. As to the bruising he had sustained, Stucki said it was the result of a fight with mafia from out of town.
“He was telling me he had been assaulted by mafia from out of Cedar City,” Romney said.
Stucki said he was a confidential informant for the Iron County Sheriff’s Office. Somehow the mafia found out and came seeking revenge, he claimed. A call made to the Iron County Sheriff’s Office proved Stucki’s initial story to be false.
Stucki was ultimately taken the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility while Romney remained on the scene to investigate.
While investigating the scene, Romney said he found a porch in the backyard of a home on the property where about a dozen or so empty beer cans were strewn about, along with a near-empty bottle of vodka. He also found pieces of a shattered coffee mug. Near the porch, he found a 4-foot-long, 2-inch-wide branch that had a smattering of blood on part of it. Nearby was an impression in the grass where it appeared someone’s body had fallen to the ground, along with a smattering blood on the grass.
Later that night, Romney questioned Stucki, who was told his rights and initially waived the right an attorney.
At first, Stucki stuck to his story about being attacked by mafia, but when he was told about the evidence found at the scene, his story began to change.
Stucki had been working as a caretaker for a property in LaVerkin and living in a trailer there, Romney said, and he had been allowing Loomer to stay on the property in a tent.
At about 3:30 p.m. the day of the incident, Stucki said he arrived at the property to find Loomer on the back porch drinking alcohol, which he evidently was not supposed to be doing as a guest. Somewhere along the way, both men became intoxicated and an argument ensued.
Stucki said Loomer took a coffee mug and smashed it into the side of his face, which proved consistent with Stucki’s injury and evidence found at the scene. As some point, Stucki grabbed a four-foot-long branch and hit Loomer with it, causing the injury to the back of his head. Stucki said he had used the stick as part of a karate move and was just playing around, Romney said.
Stucki told Romney that after hitting Loomer, he walked away and passed out in the garage. After walking up and finding Loomer in the driveway, he called 911.
Romney was unable to obtain more specific information from Stucki, who told the detective his memories of the incident weren’t very clear. He also asked about whether or not he needed a lawyer, at which point Romney said he could obtain one if he wished and ended the interview.
Lawyers give arguments
Shaum said the state believed it had met the requirements justifying a charge of first-degree felony murder against Stucki.
A reasonable person would understand that hitting someone in the head with a 4-foot-long, 2-inch-wide stick would caused serious harm, Shaum said.
“It was a significant act on (Stucki’s) part,” he said.
Flint argued that the evidence did not match the charges.
“We know Loomer attacked the defendant with a weapon,” Flint said, referring to the coffee mug Loomer used to hit Stucki.
With the coffee mug, Flint said Loomer started the fight with an act of aggravated assault.
Based on Romney’s testimony, Flint argued, Stucki appeared to be distraught, delusional and intoxicated when he spoke to the detective when first at the scene. Thus, things said by Stucki then “appear to be statements of a delusional individual,” he said.
Bringing his argument to a close, Flint said the evidence presented before the court perhaps better fit a manslaughter charge rather than murder. He also said there was a strong case for self-defense.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Walton ruled in favor of the state and bound Stucki over for trial on charges of first-degree felony murder and a class C misdemeanor for intoxication.
Stucki’s next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 9 at 9 a.m.
Ed. Note: Travis Romney served with the LaVerkin Police during the original incident described above and testified in this case. He currently serves as a reporter for St. George News and has had no participation in the news reporting on this case.
- Victim in LaVerkin assault case die
- Victim of LaVerkin assault remains on life support
- Assault charges substituted for murder charges against LaVerkin man
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.