VIEWS DIFFER OVER MOUNTAIN MAN STUTLER- "Self-Appointed Judge, Jury And Executioner" Or "Peaceful Citizen"

By Bob Weaver

Little Creek resident Harold Stutler, 67 (pictured Left) is being sent to Anthony Center for a sixty-day evaluation, following a sentencing hearing Monday before Judge David Nibert in Calhoun Circuit Court.

Stutler had already plead from first degree to second degree attempted murder.

The victim's impact statement was read by the victim's wife Teresa Stutler Starcher. Several character witnesses appeared before the court suggesting Stutler would be a good candidate for probation.

The impact and character statements gave a widely varying impression of Stutler's personality and behavior, from a man who has a violent temper to a peaceful citizen who "never spoke an ill word about any person."

Stutler was characterized as a "mountain man" by his attorney Tony Morgan, saying he is a "real woodsman" who traps, hunts, fishes and digs and sells roots.

Stutler is charged with shooting at his brother-in-law Richard Starcher last August on Ace Haney Hill near Little Creek.

Stutler lie in wait along a rural road and pumped several shots into Starcher's truck as it drove by, breaking a window and barely missing Starcher's head. Starcher received some injuries from the shotgun blasts. See story (8/20/2003)

The shooting was the climax of a family dispute over a small piece of property used by the Starchers, but claimed by Stutler.

Delivering the victim's statement, Teresa Starcher, who is also a sister to the defendant, spoke tearfully to the court about her husband.

"He is a kindhearted and generous person who has helped about everyone in this community," declaring their lives have changed forever, having to leave the state in order to feel safe.

Starcher claims her brother threatened to see she and husband would lose everything, including "blowing your head(s) off."

Richard has "worked like a dog" in the garage business next door to their house. "It is a business that may never rebound." She spoke about his dedication to helping her, suffering from muscular dystrophy and confined to a wheelchair.

She said Stutler was fueled by greed and intolerance of others. "He is a self-appointed judge, jury and executioner."

"I am very afraid of Harold," she said. "We find the plea bargain a gross injustice. We want incarceration and the maximum sentence possible."

Several witnesses then testified about their experiences with Stutler, viewing him as a "peaceful and honest man."

The former president of the West Virginia Trapper's Association, a retired coal miner who has known Stutler for 15 years said he was given the Presidential Award for his work with kids, teaching them trapping and woodsmen skills.

Brother-in-law Kenneth Hughes said he had never seen Stutler upset. "He is an honest man," he said. "Straight as a string."

Calhoun Sheriff Allen Parsons said he had known Stutler for about thirty years, and found the shooting incident to be out of character. "He has no record and he has always been cooperative with law enforcement," said Parsons, saying "He has been quiet and reserved ... always accommodating and friendly."

Sheriff Parsons, whose deputy is in charge of the investigation, said this was the first time he has been a character witness of a person charged with a shooting.

Prosecuting Attorney Matt Minney reminded the witnesses that the charges against Stutler are "a very serious matter."

Parsons said "I was there when he gave his confession" and he "waived all his rights," indicating he would assist him during a probationary period. "I believe he can live by the law," he concluded.

Stutler's daughter Lisa Carpenter took the stand in behalf of her father. She said "I believe he can live by societies rules," after which she recalled a conversation she had with the victim's wife, Teresa Starcher.

Ms. Starcher loudly exclaimed from the gallery "Lisa, you tell the truth. That's a lie!" After a second outburst, Judge David Nibert asked she be removed from the courtroom.

Stutler's wife Jean took the stand to talk about her husband's serious health problems. She said "Harold has done things he shouldn't have done."

Former State Policeman, Calhoun magistrate and pastor of the Brooksville Baptist Church, C. W. "Mac" McDonald, spoke on behalf of the accused. "As a pastor I would do everything in my power" to help him,saying over the years he had not seen him as an angry man.

Attorney Morgan said Stutler attempted to settle the property dispute two years ago in a letter he sent to the Starchers, offering a life-time lease.

"He stands before you sorry and remorseful, a good man," said Morgan, alluding to his uniqueness as a well-known woodsman. "He made a terrible mistake in a feud that escalated ... The dispute is settled. It's over," said Morgan. "He has plead guilty to a felony, even given up his rights to own a gun."

A short time later Harold Stutler stood before Judge Nibert. In a broken voice shortened by breathing problems. He said "I'm extremely sorry. I was in a different state of mind. I will never again act on my own..."

Following the 60-day diagnosis, classification and evaluation at Anthony Center, Stutler will return to court for sentencing.