Trial begins in Highland Park man's 2013 slaying

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (WLS) -- Opening statements were read Monday in a murder trial in the northern suburbs. Philip Vatamaniuc is one of three people charged with murdering a man and dumping his body along the Edens Expressway back in 2013.

Colin Nutter's parents walked into Lake County Court still seeking justice nearly four years after their 20-year-old son was shot and killed inside his car. Prosecutors say Nutter was killed after meeting with Benjamin Schenk, Michael Coffee and Philip Vatamaniuc in Highwood to sell them marijuana.

His body was found dumped by the side of a frontage road in Wilmette by a girl walking a dog. And while all three men were charged with first degree murder, Vatamaniuc's case is the first - and possibly the only one - to come to trial.

During opening statements, Assistant State's Attorney Reginald Matthews called the killing "an ambush of extreme cowardice" while pegging the actual shooting on Vatamaniuc - who was 17 at the time.

But Vatamaniuc's defense attorney rejects that notion and insists his client's biggest crime was "hanging around with this group."

He said Schenk - who pled guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence - has made jailhouse statements that he did the killing, but would place it on Vatamaniuc during trial.

First to testify on Monday was Samantha de la Cruz, the now-woman who found Nutter's body the evening of June 3, 2013. More significant was the testimony of Francisco Martinez - a friend of the accused who threw a party at his home in the days before the murder. It was his father's gun, taken without permission,that was used to commit the murder.

Schenk - who pleaded guilty - is expected to testify at some point during Vatamaniuc's trial. Despite his plea, he's expected to serve at least a 20-year sentence. Michael Coffee has been declared unfit for trial and is currently being held at a mental health facility for further evaluation.
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