Prosecutors Seek Death for Teen

Academy Killing Called 'Brutal Murder'

St. Louis Post-Dispatch/May 23, 1996
By Tim O'Neil

Editor's Note: Correction published May 24, 1996: Missouri has executed 19 people since 1989, when it resumed imposing capital punishment. The article below lists an incorrect total.

An 18-year-old from Arkansas will face the death penalty if he is convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of a fellow student at a Baptist boarding school in southeastern Missouri, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney Jon A. Kiser notified the county circuit court that he will seek the execution of Anthony G. Rutherford of Siloam Springs, Ark. Rutherford and a 15-year-old boy from Los Angeles face charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the killing on March 25 of William A. Futrelle II, 16, of Boca Raton, Fla.

"It was a very brutal murder," Kiser said.

All three were students at the Mountain Park Baptist Church and Boarding Academy, a private school for troubled youths. Futrelles throat was slashed and his head beaten repeatedly, allegedly to keep him from disclosing a bizarre plot to take over the school.

The school is on 165 remote wooded acres near the St. Francis River, about 110 miles south of St. Louis. Its enrollment is about 170 girls and 30 boys.

On Tuesday, a circuit judge in Wayne County ruled that Joseph S. Burris, 15, should stand trial as an adult. But Burris is too young to face the death penalty because Missouri law prohibits it for anyone who was younger than 16 at the time of the offense.

Burris turns 16 on June 30. Rutherford's birthday is Dec. 19.

Under Missouri law, a conviction of first-degree murder is punished either by execution or life in prison without parole. A jury that convicts a defendant of first-degree murder then listens to a separate hearing on punishment and recommends either sentence to the judge. The judge imposes sentence.

Rutherford has been held in the Wayne County jail without bail since the evening of the killing. Rutherford's father, Bruce Rutherford, is the presiding administrative judge of Benton County, in far northwestern Arkansas.

The regional public defender's office is defending Rutherford. Chief defender Rebecca Burke of Poplar Bluff said she will talk soon with members of the state defender's office in St. Louis. Burke said that office usually takes over capital cases.

Burke already has filed a motion to move Rutherford's trial to another county. As for Kiser's decision Wednesday, she said, "That's his prerogative."

Of the 89 men and three women on Missouri's death row at the Potosi Correctional Center, three were younger when they committed their crimes than Rutherford was on March 25. Two of those three were slightly older than 16 1/2 when they committed murder.

They are Heath Wilkins, now 26, and Antonio Richardson, now 21. Wilkins, of Kansas City, stabbed a liquor-store clerk in suburban Kansas City in July 1985. Richardson, of Pine Lawn, was convicted for his role in the rape and murder of sisters Robin and Julie Kerry of north St. Louis County, who were thrown into the Mississippi River from the old Chain of Rocks Bridge in April 1991.

The third-youngest offender on death row is Christopher Simmons, of the Fenton area, who was 17 when he took part in the murder of Shirley Ann Crook. She was bound with tape and thrown into the Meramec River from a railroad bridge in September 1993.

St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali had appealed to the Jefferson County Circuit Court not to condemn Simmons. He was sentenced in August 1994 and is the youngest person on death row.

Missouri has executed 17 people since 1989, when it resumed imposing the death penalty. The youngest among them at the time of his offense was Frederick Lashley of St. Louis, who was one month shy of 18 when he murdered a relative in April 1981. He was executed in July 1993.

The youngest person ever to be executed by the state was James Thomas of St. Louis, who was 20 in October 1944 when he went to the gas chamber. His offense was a rape committed in January 1943. His exact age was not available.

Before 1938, counties handled their own executions.

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