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Teen’s statement to be used at trial of drug-related homicide

Philip Vatamaniuc | Courtesy Lake County Sheriff's Office

Philip Vatamaniuc | Courtesy of the Lake County Sheriff's Office

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Updated: January 18, 2014 6:13AM

A motion to suppress the statement given to police by 17-year-old Highland Park murder suspect Philip Vatamaniuc was denied Monday afternoon by Lake County Circuit Court Judge Victoria Rossetti.

Vatamaniuc, who faces first-degree murder charges in a pending trial for the June shooting death of 20-year-old Highland Park resident Colin Nutter, does not confess in the late-night videotaped statement, but he does acknowledge being at the scene and seeing Nutter shot.

Rossetti’s ruling Monday came after hours of testimony and argument in several hearings on the issue, as well as a viewing of the statement, which was recorded at the Highland Park Police Department.

The motion was filed by defense attorney Robert Ritacca, who had argued that Vatamaniuc was extremely tired, traumatized from witnessing the murder, in pain from a jaw that was wired due to an unrelated injury and impaired by prescription pain medication when he gave the statement to police.

Rossetti gave a lengthy explanation of her decision, often recapping testimony and events seen in the videotape.

In the end, she said that while many factors were involved, the crux of the motion came down to whether the statement was given freely and voluntarily, and she said it was.

Rossetti said Vatamaniuc was at no time threatened, promised anything or deprived of sleep by police, and said that his Miranda rights had been read to him from start to finish and he acknowledged that he understood each one.

She noted that when advised he had the right to an attorney, Vatamaniuc had said “so would it be alright if I had one now,” but said he asked that while his rights being given, and officers told him he would have to make such a request after they were finished with the Miranda process.

After his rights were read, he then talked with investigators, she said.

As to his state of mind, Rossetti said she believed he may have been tired throughout the interview, which was conducted between 12:33 a.m. and 3:46 a.m., but he did not appear “dazed and confused.”

“He was able to answer questions appropriately,” she said.

During the videotaped statement, he said that he was in the back seat of Nutter’s car when Nutter was shot by a codefendant, Benjamin Schenk, but that he was not a participant in a plot to kill Nutter.

Prosecutors have alleged that Schenk, 20, of Highwood, who also faces charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery with a firearm and concealing a firearm in the death of Nutter, was the triggerman in the killing.

But in November, a motion was also filed by the state alleging Vatamaniuc was the shooter.

Assistant State’s Attorney Reginald Mathews said the motion was filed based on new information in the case, but that the state has not backed off its allegations that Schenk shot Nutter during a marijuana deal.

The motion alleging Vatamaniuc is the shooter opens the possibility for enhanced penalties on conviction for Vatamaniuc, from 20 to 60 years in prison to 20 years to life in prison.

Ritacca responded that state’s new motion against Vatamaniuc was based on information from an unreliable outside source.

Nutter’s body was found near the Edens Expressway on June 3.

Police and prosecutors allege Schenk, Vatamaniuc, and Michael Coffee, 17, of Highland Park, arranged a marijuana deal with Nutter that morning. The meeting took place in Nutter’s car, where he was shot, according to police. He died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Nutter’s body was taken from from the driver’s seat and placed in the trunk before it was left by the highway, authorities said.

Vatamaniuc testified during the hearing on the motion to suppress his statement that he did not try to run away or leave the others after the murder because he was afraid of Schenck.

A jogger found Nutter’s body lying in brush near the Edens Expressway on the east side of Frontage Road, just south of the intersection of Old Glenview Road and Briar Drive in Skokie.

Vatamaniuc and Coffee, also charged with murder, gave police statements implicating Schenck as the shooter.

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