A sense of dread came on quickly for Angie Nutter the morning of June 4, 2013. Already worried because her son Colin hadn’t come home the night before and wasn’t answering his phone, she then realized that her car was missing, as was some dog medication her husband had left on the counter.
She called police, and they arrived at her Highland Park home minutes later.
“They didn’t waste any time telling me,” she said from the witness stand Tuesday, her voice trembling and her hands clasped as if in prayer. “They found Colin’s body.”
Nearly four years after their 20-year-old son was shot to death in his car — his body discovered hours later hidden under leaves and brush near an Edens Expressway ramp in Wilmette — both Angie and her husband, Michael Nutter, testified Tuesday in the murder trial of Philip Vatamaniuc in Lake County court.
Vatamaniuc was a 17-year-old Highland Park High School student at the time, and he and two friends — Michael Coffee, then 17, also of Highland Park, and Benjamin Schenk, then 20 and of Highwood — were swiftly arrested and charged with killing Nutter.
Angie Nutter, a nurse, said from the witness stand that she was unprepared for and overwhelmed by the news of her son’s slaying. She asked a friend to call her husband and work and tell him to come home right away but wouldn’t say why.
Michael Nutter then took the stand and described his own growing sense of doom as he got off the train and then saw police cars and news trucks in front of his house. An officer inside told him to sit down next to his wife. Upon hearing his son was dead, “I jumped up, and I believe I swore, and I said, ‘Are you sure it was Colin?'” Michael Nutter recalled.
The officer explained that Colin had been identified through his fingerprints.
Authorities allege that the three men targeted Nutter with plans to rob him of marijuana, but then decided to shoot him — using a gun Coffee had stolen from a friend’s father — so they could steal his car and drive it into Chicago. Officials first identified Schenk as the alleged gunman, but Schenk is expected to testify that it was Vatamaniuc who shot Nutter in the back of the head.
Schenk pleaded guilty in the case in exchange for his testimony against Vatamaniuc and the possibility of a lighter sentence.
Coffee has been found unfit to stand trial. He is in jail awaiting placement at a psychiatric treatment facility.
Angie Nutter testified that she and her husband were aware of and concerned that their son had been selling small amounts of marijuana. She said Colin had recently begun seeing a psychologist at his parents’ request, and they had just helped him purchase the used Dodge Stratus in which he would be killed.
Authorities said that the three suspects initially hid Nutter’s body in the trunk and later went to the home of a friend in Highwood, Lauren Hahn, to try to clean up the car. A neighbor of Hahn, Frances Pieri, testified to seeing a young man cleaning up a car she didn’t recognize in front of Hahn’s house on June 3, 2013, the day authorities say Nutter was killed.
Under questioning from Vatamaniuc’s attorney, Pieri said the young man she saw was not the defendant.
An officer who was called to the Highwood home testified Tuesday to seeing blood stains in the sidewalk and finding bloodied padding from a car trunk, along with the bottle of dog medication, in a garbage can outside.
After dumping Nutter’s body, officials said, the three suspects headed toward Chicago but then decided to go back to retrieve Nutter’s wallet, which they did after taking some time to locate the body, having forgotten exactly where they left it.
After a trip to the city, Coffee and Schenk dropped off Vatamaniuc the next day and then used Nutter’s keys to enter his parents’ house, where they stole some marijuana, the bottle of pills and the family’s Ford Focus, authorities said.
The three then returned to the city with both cars but abandoned the Stratus there after getting into a minor accident, authorities said.
Police later saw Schenk trying to break into the Ford Focus in front of Hahn’s house because the keys were locked inside.
Later Tuesday, Hahn took the stand and nervously testified about Schenk and Coffee arriving at her house at about 11 a.m. on the day of the killing, later joined by Vatamaniuc. She said Schenk and Coffee were passing around the gun and bullets before the three left, with Vatamaniuc holding the gun.
When they returned a few hours later, Hahn said, they asked her for bleach, and she saw them remove carpeting from the car, which she later found in her garbage along with other bloodied objects. Hahn said she couldn’t recall if she called police at that point.
Also testifying Tuesday was Danny Valentine, who described Vatamaniuc as one of his best friends. Valentine said that on June 4, Vatamaniuc and Coffee came to his house in Highland Park and smoked pot with him an