Students Planned Cult, Says Sheriff

Teens Also Targeted Girls, He Testifies

St. Louis Post-Dispatch/May 1, 1996
By Tim O'Neil

Two students at a secluded private school who are accused of killing a fellow student had plotted to kill the adult staff, take over the school and sate a Waco-type cult, according to court testimony Tuesday.

Wayne County Sheriff Nathan Hale said they also planned to "have their way" with the girl students at their school, the Mountain Park Baptist Church and Boarding Academy.

A preliminary hearing was held Tuesday on charges of first-degree murder i_ armed criminal action against Anthony G. "Tony" Rutherford, 18, of Siloam rings. Ark. Rutherford and a 15-year-old student are accused of killing William A. Futrelle II, 16, of Boca Raton, Fla., in a wooded area of the campus on March 25.

Shortly after the killing, the suspects told school officials they had done nothing wrong and led them to Futrelle's body. He had suffered a five-inch gash to his throat and blows to his forehead that caused a brain hemorrhage.

After hearing 75 minutes of testimony Tuesday, Associate Circuit Judge Randy P. Schuller ruled there was enough evidence to put Rutherford on trial and ordered him held without bond. Steve White of Poplar Bluff, a public fender who is representing Rutherford, said he would plead innocent at arraignment Thursday.

A hearing on whether the 15-year-old also should stand trial as an adult on the same charges will be held here May 21. He is from California.

Another 15-year-old, who also was present at the killing, already has been it to juvenile detention on a lesser charge of concealing a crime.

Mountain Park Baptist academy is on 165 acres just west of the St. Francis River, about 110 miles south of St. Louis and 12 miles from Greenville, the Wayne County seat. The school for troubled teen-agers enrolls about 170 qirls I 30 boys.

The Rev. Bobby Wills and his wife, Betty, run the school with several relatives and other staff members. The Willses believe in strict discipline I conservative Christianity.

Rutherford has been in the county jail on the third floor of the courthouse since March 25. He appeared Tuesday in a white shirt, brown slacks I brown tie. He rarely spoke to White but was attentive and closely followed testimony.

His maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Russell of Siloam Springs, Ark., were his only relatives at the hearing. Rutherford's father is Bruce Rutherford, the presiding administrative judge of Benton County, in far northwestern Arkansas.

Chief sheriff's deputy Larry Bruce testified that he questioned Anthony Rutherford at the school shortly after the killing. Bruce said Rutherford told, that he and the other suspect talked earlier that day about killing Futrelle, a new student whom they had been told to monitor, to get him out of the way.

Rutherford's written statement, which Bruce read in court, says they planned the killing "so we could roam freely, to break into a house and get our hands on a gun or some other weapon to attempt to take out the staff and start a cult, as was in Texas."

Wayne County Prosecutor Jon A. Kiser said the reference was to David Koresh near Waco, Texas. Koresh and 80 of his Branch Davidians died in a fire that destroyed their compound on April 19, 1993, after a 51-day standoff with federal agents.

Rutherford's statement says they attacked Futrelle while they were in woods downhill from the main campus collecting kindling for Sam Gerhardt, school principal and a son-in-law of the Willses. It says the other suspect prepared to hit Futrelle with a brick, but Rutherford warned him that Futrelle might scream.

With a hand motion, Rutherford urged him to cover Futrelle's mouth.

The other suspect then jumped Futrelle from behind and began choking him. While Futrelle struggled, Rutherford kicked him "two to six times in the abdominal area," the statement says, and the other youth then cut Futrelle's throat.

With Futrelle still on his knees, Rutherford wrote, the youth kicked and hit him several times with a stick "to finish him off." Then they dragged his body about 50 feet from the trail.

Sheriff Hale offered a summary of statements by the other suspect. Hale said the 15-year-old said that after they took over the school, they would "have their way with the girls and stand off anybody who tried to stop them."

But after they broke into Gerhardt's house and tried to enter another and found no weapon, they decided to give up. Hale said. Rutherford's statement ends: ". . .We couldn't find any (weapon) so we turned ourselves in after a large debate."

Trent Matthews, a teacher at Mountain Park, said he saw Rutherford and the other suspect outside a window at about 4:45 p.m. that day "with troubled looks on their faces." He said Rutherford immediately asked to see Gerhardt. When Matthews asked them what they had done, the other boy told him, "You will read about it."

Investigators have said the conspirators had hoped to get on national television. Kiser said evidence not used Tuesday refers to that.

Gerhardt attended the hearing and spoke to Rutherford's grandparents. Afterward, Gerhardt said: "We are still concerned about Tony. We're heartbroken about the circumstances. Even though we make serious mistakes, the Lord still has a purpose. We want Tony to find out what that is for him."

White said he probably will ask that the trial be moved to another county.

Kiser said he hadn't decided whether to seek the death penalty. The punishment for first-degree murder is death or life in prison.

The Rutherford family has made no statement, and the grandparents declined to comment Tuesday. Bruce Rutherford, the suspect's father, recently decided against seeking re-election this year.

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