Cutts gets life – again

OKEECHOBEE — “Did you look into her eyes?” the prosecutor quietly asked.

“It was dark,” replied the murderer.

It was 4:02 a.m.

Kevin Cutts

Kevin Cutts

Kevin Cutts, already convicted of killing Elizabeth Hatfield as she slept in her fold-out bed March 15, 1995, said he shot her five or six times with his 9mm semi-automatic handgun and started to leave her small single-wide mobile home in Four Seasons.

“But, you went back. Didn’t you?” inquired assistant state attorney Ashley Albright.

“Yes. She was still alive and in pain,” replied Cutts.

He shot her again. And again. And again. And again. Cutts really didn’t know how many times.

Next to the 18-year-old woman was her 8-month-old baby girl. The baby was not injured.

That baby girl, now a 21-year-old woman, was in Okeechobee and got to look into the eyes of her mother’s killer at his re-sentencing hearing held Wednesday, June 29.

“I think my mom would have been my best friend,” she said while queried by Mr. Albright.

Katie Elizabeth Slusher was in Okeechobee to testify because Cutts, who was 17 years old and a juvenile when he killed Ms. Hatfield, was awarded a new sentencing hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court ruled he could not automatically receive a sentence of life in prison, as was done in 1997 when he entered into a plea deal with the state.
However, time changed very little.

Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn on Wednesday sentenced Cutts to life on the first-degree murder conviction and 24 years on a burglary with a battery conviction. Those sentences will run consecutively and Cutts, continued the judge, will be eligible for parole on the murder charge in 25 years.

The judge also ruled that Cutts will receive credit for the some 20 years he has already spent behind bars.

“You see a lot of disturbing things in criminal court,” said Judge Vaughn at the sentencing. “And, this is one of them.”

When asked by the prosecutor, Ms. Slusher said she didn’t think Cutts sentence should be reduced.

“I believe he did know what he was doing. So, I don’t really believe the sentence should be cut down at all,” she testified. “Where would we be if he hadn’t taken that plea? We certainly wouldn’t be here.

“He chose to take that life of solitude behind bars,” added the blond-haired woman who was raised by her great-grandparents.

Ms. Slusher also told Judge Vaughn her family had given her Ms. Hatfield’s diary, and she has read every page.

“It’s kind of weird,” she said, “to be so much like my mother but I never knew her.”

Her mother was killed because the father of her baby, Ryan Harris, made Cutts believe Ms. Hatfield was an unfit mother. Harris, who is now being held at the Okeechobee Correctional Institution (OCI), convinced Cutts that Ms. Hatfield was using drugs and was abusive to her daughter.

“She (Ms. Hatfield) really loved Ryan. She really did,” said Ms. Slusher.

Despite that love for Harris, she would not give up her baby.

But, Harris wanted his daughter and was going to do whatever he had to do to get her.

Which brings us to Cutts, who said he knew Ms. Hatfield but they weren’t close.

“Ryan wanted her dead. He said she was abusing the baby and using drugs around the baby,” testified Cutts. “I found out later those were lies.

“I murdered an innocent young woman because of that,” he said.

Miami defense attorney Robert Barrar told Judge Vaughn when Cutts, who never knew his father, was a teen he was very immature, impetuous and easily manipulated by Harris.

Testimony indicated Harris knew that. And, he had things well planned out.

When it came time, Harris gave Cutts the Ruger 9mm handgun, gloves and a flashlight. He also had a scanner so he could keep up with what law enforcement was doing.

Cutts got out of Harris’ car and walked up to Ms. Hatfield’s modest mobile home on N.E. Ninth Way shortly before 4 a.m. He used a baseball bat to break out the glass door so he could gain entry.

Once inside, he was just a couple of steps from Ms. Hatfield who was on the fold-out bed in the living room.

Half asleep, she said: “What are you doing here?”

Cutts then opened fire.

“Then, I heard the baby cry,” he told former Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office detectives George Suttle and Noel Stephen in an interview a few hours after the killing.

As he was leaving the home he heard the woman moan: “Oh, my God.”

Knowing she was still alive. He turned and shot her about the head and face several more times.

At 4:16 a.m. Cutts got into a car with Harris and left.

Later that day, detectives started to show Cutts photos of the baby. But, he refused to look.

“That hurt me because I had just killed its mother,” he told Detective Suttle at the time.

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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