Plea deal to end ginseng slaying case

Published: Friday, March 15, 2013 @ 10:18 PM
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 @ 10:18 PM

A 78-year-old New Paris man convicted in January on a split verdict in the fatal shooting of a trespasser who was on the man’s property searching for ginseng is expected to admit to a reduced charge Tuesday, March 19, offered in a plea agreement by the Preble County Prosecutor’s Office.

Joseph Kutter is to plead guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter, which the prosecutor’s office reduced from the original charge of murder. A gun specification attached to the murder charge, which would add three additional years in prison, has been dropped as well, the prosecutor’s office said Friday.

The manslaughter charge is punishable by 11 years in prison, while the murder conviction would bring a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life on top of the three years because a gun was used in the slaying of Bobby Joe Grubbs.

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A county Common Pleas jury convicted Kutter on single counts of tampering with evidence and gross abuse of a corpse in the homicide, but deadlocked on the murder count.

At trial, prosecutors said Grubbs intended to collect the ginseng, which he knew to be growing on Kutter’s property. Ginseng is a valuable herb that can sell for hundreds of dollars per pound when properly dried and prepared.

Kutter told the Preble County Sheriff’s Office he saw a man walking in his yard at 7905 W. U.S. 40. He told them that when he asked the trespasser what he was doing, the man charged at him. Kutter said he then shot the trespasser in the torso using what prosecutors believe was an AK 47. The shooting occurred between May 26 and June 2, 2012.

Grubbs, 31, had been reported missing by family members on May 26. His body was found June 2 by cadaver dogs in a mulch pile on the east side of the property, according to the sheriff’s office, which noted the body appeared to have been concealed and was fairly decomposed.

An officer testified at trial that deputies did not record a 40-minute interview with Kutter following the discovery of the body because of technical issues. They said they recalled the conversation from memory, that Kutter told them he put the body in a creek bed and moved it several times during before he told authorities it was in a mulch pile.

Friday, in explaining the reasoning behind the plea agreement, Prosecutor Martin P. Votel said the case posed several challenges including that Kutter “has no criminal record, was on his own land, and claimed to have been defending himself and his property at the time of the shooting. There were no witnesses to the incident.”

Votel said, “The facts of the case raise polarizing issues, such as the right to bear arms and the right to protect one’s self and one’s property.”

He also that after dissecting the first trial and considering the comments of jurors, citizens and law enforcement, as well as talks with the victim’s family, “it became clear that this case should be resolved short of a retrial if possible. This plea agreement ensures that the defendant will take legal responsibility for the death.”