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Three charged in death of Highland Park man

The three people charged in the slaying of 20-year-old Colin Nutter of Highland Park had arranged to buy marijuana from him, but one of the would-be buyers shot him in the back of the head while they sat in Nutter’s car, Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim said this morning.

Benjamin Schenk, 20, of Highwood, Philip Vatamaniuc, 17, of Highland Park, and Michael Coffee, 17, of Highland Park, have each been charged with first-degree murder, Nerheim said. A Lake County judge this morning set bond for each at $5 million.

Schenk had been free on $30,000 bond on charges of aggravated assault and use of a deadly weapon in Highland Park on Dec. 3 when he was charged in Nutter’s death, according to Lake County Circuit Court records. Coffee, meanwhile, was on court supervision after pleading guilty last month to charges of aggravated battery and mob action for an incident in Highland Park in October, records show.

On Monday night, the three met with Nutter in Highwood under the pretense of buying marijuana from him, Nerheim said. Schenk was sitting behind Nutter, who was in the driver’s seat, and pulled out a gun and shot him once in the back of the head, killing him, the state's attorney said.

Both Vatamaniuc and Coffee told police that Schenk was the shooter, Nerheim said.

Vatamaniuc and Schenk placed Nutter’s body in the trunk of his own car, Nerheim said, and the three of them drove the body to where it would later be found on Frontage Road in Wilmette, east of the Edens Expessway.

At some point, the three men allegedly went to the Nutters’ home on Harvard Court in Highland Park and stole his parents’ Ford Focus, Colin Nutter’s sister, Sara Nutter, told the Tribune this week. Nerheim said he couldn’t confirm that, saying only that they “came into possession” of the Ford Focus.

On Tuesday morning, they drove Nutter’s Dodge Stratus and his parents’ Ford Focus into Chicago and left the Dodge on the 3900 block of Madison Street, Nerheim said. They returned to a house on the 200 block of Oakridge Avenue in Highwood, which was under police surveillance.

Schenk was arrested Tuesday while attempting to break the window of the Ford Focus with a baseball bat, after locking the keys inside the car, Nerheim said. Vatamaniuc and Coffee were arrested the next day.

Police found a bloody trunk liner in the trash can at the Oakridge Avenue house, Nerheim said. Police found the Dodge Stratus on Thursday.

Wilmette Police Department, Highland Park Police Department, the Highwood Police Department, the North Regional Major Crimes Task Force and the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force have all been involved in the investigation.

According to Lake County Circuit Court records, Schenk was charged with underage consumption of alcohol and possession of marijuana on Oct. 8, 2011 in Highwood. The underage consumption charge was dropped, and he successfully completed court supervision on the pot charge.

He was charged with unlawful use of a weapon and underage consumption of alcohol in Lake Forest on July 15, 2012. The court file says he was carrying an open knife “with intent to use it unlawfully against another,” but has no other details. The charges were dropped.

He was charged with theft in Highland Park on Aug. 1, 2012. The judge withheld judgment in that case, and Schenk was placed on supervision.

Schenk was charged with aggravated assault, and use of a deadly weapon in Highland Park on Dec. 3, 2012. That case is still active. Court records say he entered a red Chevy Equinox parked in driveway in the of 300 block of Walker Ave in Highland Park with intent to commit theft. Court paperwork does not explain how a weapon was involved. He was out on $30,000 bond in that case when Nutter was slain.

Lake County records also show that Coffee was charged with mob action and aggravated battery after an incident Oct. 25 in Highland Park, on the Robert McClory bike path. Authorities say Coffee assaulted two people, striking one about the head and body and the other on the body. On May 6, Coffee pleaded guilty and received 12 months of supervision and was ordered to have no contact with the victims.

Schenk, Vatamaniuc and Coffee are next due in court on July 1.

Freelance writer Ruth Fuller contributed.

gtrotter@tribune.com

Twitter: @NorthShoreTrib

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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