A 19-year-old man was found guilty swiftly Monday for his part in a murder last year of a fellow student at a rural boarding school for troubled youths.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Douglas E. Long Jr., presiding without a jury, found Anthony G. Rutherford of Siloam Springs, Ark., guilty of first-degree murder after a trial that lasted barely 5 1/2 hours. Rutherford had agreed to a nonjury trial when the prosecutor agreed to drop his plan to seek the death penalty.
After the lawyers ended their arguments. Long paused only enough to fold his glasses and shake his head before announcing the verdict.
Rutherford and another young man were charged in the murder on March 25, 1996, of William A. Futrelle II, 16, of Boca Raton, Fla., a fellow student at the Mountain Park Baptist Church and Boarding Academy in Wayne County, Mo. The school is in rolling hills just west of the St. Francis River, about 110 miles south of St. Louis.
The trial was moved to Pulaski County, west of Rolla, on a change of venue.
Wayne County Prosecutor Jon A. Kiser called 11 witnesses, but the heart of his case was a 22-minute videotaped statement that Rutherford gave to Wayne County Sheriff Nathan Hale on the evening of the murder. On the tape, Rutherford described how he and Joseph S. Burris, 16, of Los Angeles, lured Futrelle into woods near the school and killed him with a knife, a brick and a stick.
Rutherford said they feared that Futrelle, a new student who was assigned to stay with the more experienced Burris, would foil their plan to take over the school, control the female students in a Branch Davidian-style cult and get on national television. Rutherford said he thought up the plan because he was tired of being pushed around.
"I was trying to overpower and take over, just push over Mountain Park in any way possible, so that I could start something, do things the way I wanted to do them . . . not be made to do something because it's the rules," Rutherford said in the taped interview.
He ended the statement by saying: "I felt like I was pushed around to a certain point. I was always looked down upon. I wanted to be looked up to."
Rutherford and Burris have admitted that Rutherford struck Futrelle in the head with a brick and kicked him, and that Burris beat Futrelle with a heavy stick, slashed his throat and kicked him.
Rutherford described on the videotape how he called Burris off when Burris prepared to start the attack near the school.
"No, he might scream," Rutherford said he told Burris. "You have to cover his mouth."
Moments later, Rutherford said, he pave Burris a pocketknife with a 4-inch blade.
When Burris said, "Don't make me do this," Rutherford said he responded, "I'm not forcing you to do anything."
Rutherford said he then hit Futrelle twice with a brick and Burris cut Futrelle's throat and slashed it twice more.
"He cut it deeper, and (Futrelle) began moving around and squirming, blood coming from his throat," Rutherford said on the videotape.
Rutherford said they left his body in the woods, tried without success to find a gun in a faculty member's home, then went to the office and confessed.
Rutherford wore a white shirt and tie and dark slacks, as well as a chain shackling his ankles and a heavy belt with a cuff to his left hand. He spoke regularly to his lawyers and listened closely to testimony, but he held his head downward throughout the playing of the videotape.
Mountain Park, founded in 1987, has 144 female and 24 male students, down 80 since Futrelle's murder. The Rev. Bobby Wills and his wife, Betty Wills, operate the school independently of state supervision. The students come from throughout the nation, and almost all of the students have been in trouble with their families or hometown authorities.
Parents choose the school because of the Willses' mix of strong biblical instruction, strict rules and isolation from the outside world.
Billie Futrelle of Boca Raton, Fla., the victim's mother, attended the trial, as did Rutherford's mother, Belinda Rutherford of Siloam Springs. Rutherford's father, Bruce Rutherford, sat in the courtroom briefly, spoke to his son during a morning break and then left. Andrew Futrelle of Philadelphia, the victim's father, did not attend.
The mothers sat on opposite sides and never spoke. After Long issued his verdict, Anthony Rutherford spoke with his mother and hugged and kissed her twice across the waist-high wall in the courtroom before he was taken back to the Phelps County Jail in Rolla.
Billie Futrelle listened intently to all the witnesses and left the courtroom only for four minutes, while the pathologist. Dr. Michael Zaricor of Farmington, described the five-inch slash to her son's throat.
Later, she told reporters: "This is the last thing I can do for my son. It hurts, but I have to be here." Motioning to Belinda Rutherford, who was talking to her son during a brief recess, Futrelle said: "She has her son. Mine is in the grave."
After the verdict, Futrelle said she was pleased that the only other punishment left is life without parole. She expressed misgivings about the death penalty, saying: "I would hate for any parent to go through what I've been through. I'm sure his mother and father have been through hell."
Futrelle said she will return to Missouri for the trial of Burris, who is awaiting the results of a psychiatric evaluation. Long set sentencing for Rutherford for June 10.
Robert Wolfrum, a lawyer with the state capital-crime public defenders' office in St. Louis, put no witnesses on the stand. In closing arguments, Wolf rum urged Long to consider lesser offenses than first-degree murder.
"The statement was pretty vague about what the plans were," Wolfrum said of the videotape. "This whole thing fizzed in minutes. I don't think that's what we call, under the law, cool reflection."
But Kiser, the prosecutor, said of Rutherford, "Frankly, the most damning evidence comes from his own mouth."