ST. GEORGE – A LaVerkin man originally accused of murder pleaded guilty to amended charges of manslaughter and obstruction of justice in 5th District Court Thursday morning.
John Stettler Stucki, 55, of LaVerkin, accepted a plea deal that dropped a first-degree felony murder charge and replaced it with amended charges of second-degree felony manslaughter and third-degree felony obstruction of justice.
Stucki was arrested in October 2013 following an altercation with 64-year-old Donald George Loomer that left Loomer unconscious and in critical condition. Loomer was flown by Life Flight to University Medical Center in Las Vegas for treatment but ultimately died.
At the time, the state proceeded to charge Stucki with first-degree felony murder. Edward Flint, Stucki’s attorney, repeatedly told the court the charge did not match the available evidence and testimony gathered in the case.
Representing the prosecution, Deputy Washington County Attorney Zachary Weiland said he had spoken with the victim’s family and they were in favor of the amended charges. However, the state also recommended elements of the plea that went beyond what the family had asked for.
“This is more than what the victim’s (family) has requested,” Weiland said, “but we believe it is in the interest of justice and recommend that he serve one year on each count; one year for the manslaughter and also a consecutive one-year for the obstruction of justice. He will serve a total of two years in the Washington County Jail. After that he will be placed on 36 months of supervised probation.”
Fifth District Judge John Walton accepted the plea agreement after Stucki pleaded guilty to the amended charges.
Though not yet officially sentenced, it is anticipated that Stucki will serve two years in Washington County’s Purgatory Correctional Facility followed by the specified probationary period. He will also be credited for time already served since his arrest in Ocotber 2013.
Elements outlining probationary requirements will be explored during a pre-sentencing investigation and presented to the court at Stucki’s sentencing hearing set for March 5, 2015.
“He’s very happy with the resolution,” Flint said of his client following the hearing, adding that Stucki felt remorse for what had happened and has taken responsibility for Loomer’s death. “He had great remorse and regret,” he said.
“Personally, I saw a self-defense case for a jury,” Flint said. Still, since jury trials can have unpredictable outcomes, the plea deal was a good alternative considering Stucki could have otherwise been sentenced to life in prison, he said.
According to court records, on Oct. 9, 2013, Stucki and Loomer got into a drunken brawl following an argument about rules on the property for which Stucki was currently acting as the caretaker. Loomer, who was homeless at the time, was being allowed to stay on the property in a tent and was evidently not following certain rules Stucki had asked him to observe while staying there.
Stucki confronted Loomer over the matter while the two were allegedly intoxicated. At some point during the incident, Loomer smashed a coffee mug into the side of Stucki’s face. Following that incident, Stucki swung a branch at the back of Loomer’s head and then walked away.
Stucki went into a garage following the incident and passed out; when he regained consciousness later that night, he found Loomer lying on the ground unconscious and called police. When officers arrived, Stucki told them he had been attacked by Mafia out of Cedar City and he had no idea who the unconscious man was. Stucki was subsequently questioned by police and arrested.
Flint told a slightly different story relating to the night’s events. He said his client hadn’t been drinking and that he had possibly reacted in self-defense after Loomer attacked him. As for the branch that Stucki hit Loomer with, Flint called it a walking stick that Loomer had originally used to beat Stucki with before Stucki grabbed it and smacked Loomer in the back of the head in return.
When Stucki went to the garage after the fight is when he began to have some drinks and subsequently passed out, Flint said.
When Stucki was conscious again, he was under the influence of alcohol, had just came out of a fight, and found Loomer’s collapsed body on the ground. The combination didn’t exactly lend well to coherent thought, which resulted in the stories about the mafia and not knowing Loomer when police arrived. The lies to police at the time formed the basis for the obstruction of justice charge.
Flint said jail was the best, safest place for Stucki right now. The real challenge for him will be when he is released from jail, Flint said. Stucki is an admitted alcoholic, Flint added, so maintaining sobriety would be very important for him during probation.
Both Flintand Weiland said a long-term substance abuse treatment program and restricted access to alcohol would likely be requirements for Stucki’s probation.
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- Assault charges substituted for murder charges against LaVerkin man
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