MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Last June, three men were shot and killed in Great Cacapon, W.Va.
Erick Shute, 33, was taken into custody for the killings, which authorities previously described as “ambush-style.” But in this exclusive jailhouse interview with WHAG’s Nick Munson, Shute told his side of the story – saying he thought the victims were going to kill him, if he didn’t defend himself.
“I just want people to know that I’m not some crazy psychopath, I’m not a serial killer,” Shute said.
While he admits to shooting and killing Jack Douglas, Willie Bartley and Travis Bartley, Shute said he had no choice. He had been keeping watch over his neighbor's property after that man passed away, according to Shute's mother.
After that property had been vandalized, he said the men had no right to be there – but that’s right where he found them on June 13, 2016.
Shute’s mother, Linda, was also near the scene that day. Police initially said that he hid behind a tree and killed the men “ambush-style,” but she maintains that they threatened her son – and that one of the three had a concealed carry permit, and was always armed.
“The whole deal about there was an ambush and he just outright murdered people for no reason…is a bunch of crap,” Linda said.
Either way, Erick Shute and the victims were not strangers. His mother claims that the group of men were thieves and had dealt drugs on their property in previous years.
Authorities said there was a history of bad blood that reached a boiling point.
“It wasn’t a one-time encounter,” Linda added. “These were people that we knew, and we knew well.”
“They decided to escalate the situation, and I was afraid for my life and I did what I had to do,” Erick explained inside the Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg. “It was a kill or be killed situation. I did not want to hurt these people.”
But that’s not enough for the victims’ families, who are hoping for justice in court.
“[My two children] lost both their grandpas and their daddy in the same day,” said Kaylee Douglas, Jack’s daughter and Travis Bartley’s fiancée. “It’s not fair.”
“He needs to pay for what he has done,” added Crystal Douglas, Kaylee’s sister. “He’s got to.”
Although Shute is confident a jury will side with him, he won’t see it as a victory.
“I have to live with this,” he said. “I’m not here to kill people. I did not want this to happen. I did not want to hurt anyone. All I wanted to do was find out ‘why are you there – you’re trespassing, okay? You need to leave.’”
“It was self-defense,” Linda added. “You have a right to protect yourself, you have a right to protect property – and that’s what he was doing.”
As for why he left Morgan County immediately following the incident, Shute said he wanted to take care of obligations at his other home in Pennsylvania before turning himself into the police.
Shute’s trial was scheduled to begin on June 21, but it has been continued.
For all of the latest in this case, be sure to watch WHAG and look for updates on Your4State.com.