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3 charged in murder of Highland Park man found along Edens

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Updated: July 15, 2013 1:31PM

A man and two teens have been charged with the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old north suburban man whose body was found Monday just off the Edens Expressway.

The Lake County State’s Attorney’s office announced Friday they believe the murder of Colin Nutter, 20, of Highland Park, whose body was left found off the expressway in Wilmette, occurred in Highwood.

Benjamin Schenk, 20, of the 200 block of Western Avenue in Highland Park; Philip Vatamaniuc, 17, of the 2900 block of Warbler Place in Highland Park; and Michael Coffee, 17, of the 2700 block of St. Johns Ave. in Highland Park, have been charged with first-degree murder, according to a statement from prosecutors.

All three suspects were arrested Thursday after being taken into custody 24-48 hours after the murder. All are being held on $5 million bond in the Lake County Jail.

Chief George Filenko of the North Suburban Major Crimes Task Force said there was “overwhelming physical evidence” linking the three to Nutter’s death, adding there could be more arrests forthcoming.

Schenk was the ringleader in the crime, but there is still no apparent motive in the case and officials continue to investigate, Lake County State’s Atty. Michael Nerheim said. A witness also gave police a statement saying he overheard the Schenk planning the robbery and murder.

The trio met Nutter early Monday to buy marijuana from the victim, officials said. The defendants then met with Nutter in his car, a Dodge Stratus. Officials said Schenk was sitting behind the victim, who was in the driver’s seat. Coffee and Vatamaniuc were also in the car, and both later told police they saw Schenk shoot Nutter in the head.

Schenk and Vatamaniuc then removed the victim’s body from the car and placed it in the trunk of his own vehicle. The trio then dove Nutter’s car to the area in Wilmette where his body was discovered, then drove back to 240 Oakridge Ave. in Highwood, a house where officials say they regularly hung out.

The next morning, the suspects also drove the Dodge Stratus and a Ford Focus belonging to the victim’s family to the 3900 Block of Madison in Chicago, and left the Stratus there. A City of Chicago red light camera caught them doing this, officials said.

State’s attorney officials said they could not share details on how the trio obtained the Nutter family’s Ford Focus, saying police are investigating.

While back at the house on 240 Oakridge Ave., officials said a witness reported Schenk was standing outside of the silver Ford striking said vehicle with a baseball bat, since the keys were locked inside. Police had been staking out the house and took him into custody for questioning in connection with Nutter’s murder.

Blood was found on the driver’s seat belt of the Dodge Stratus and a trunk liner was recovered from a garbage can of the Oakridge home, as well as items from the victim’s parents’ home, officials said.

“Sometimes there’s no answer to what’s going through their minds, some things are unexplainable,” Filenko said.

Nutter was found shot in the head and lying in brush near the Edens Expressway in Wilmette. A dog-walker spotted the body about 8:30 p.m. June 3, lying in brush on the east side of Frontage Road, just south of the intersection of Old Glenview Road and Briar Drive.

An autopsy performed Wednesday confirmed Nutter was shot in the back of the head, Wilmette Police Chief Brian King said.

Lake County Court records show Schenk has previous criminal charges for burglary and aggravated assault. During Nutter’s murder, he was being monitored by probation on a $30,000 bond in connection with a burglary that happened at roughly 5:45 a.m. Dec. 3, 2012. Schenk is accused of committing burglary to a car parked in the driveway on the 300 block of Walker Avenue in Highland Park, and then pointing a knife at a male victim, according to court records. He has been out of police custody since May 22, and is due back in court on those charges June. 19.

In addition, according to previous police blotter records, Schenk was arrested at just before 2 a.m. Aug. 1 on the 800 block Auburn Court and charged with possession of marijuana, underage consumption of alcohol, burglary to a vehicle and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. According to the police report, Schenk was arrested after police responded to a report of three suspicious individuals — two later found to be juveniles — walking in the area carrying pillowcases. Court records on these charges were not immediately available Friday.

The next Lake County Court appearance for the three suspects in Nutter’s murder is a preliminary hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. July 1 in room C120.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering issued a statement Friday, saying, “I extend my sincerest condolences to the family of Colin Nutter in the wake of this tragic loss of their son. Like many others, I experience this news first as a parent and am extraordinarily saddened by this young life lost too soon.”

She thanked the police who worked on the case, and said, “I have full confidence that this investigation will be completed in a thorough, professional and expeditious manner.”

Wilmette police said Thursday they found the navy blue 2002 Dodge Stratus they believe Nutter was driving the day he was shot, but would not confirm reports that it was found in Chicago.

•Lake County News-Sun reporter Beth Kramer contributed to this report.

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