tampabay.com

For attacker, it's prison

He receives a seven-year sentence for stabbing a homeless man.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published April 24, 2007


CLEARWATER - John Cutler capped off a night of drinking in 2005 by stabbing a homeless man in St. Petersburg.

On Monday, Cutler paid for his decision when a judge sentenced him to seven years in prison for aggravated battery.

Cutler, a stout 24-year-old with a pudgy face, displayed little emotion as Judge Joseph Bulone handed down the sentence. As Cutler was fingerprinted and taken into custody, he muttered an expletive and was hurried out of the courtroom.

Some of Cutler's relatives covered their faces and wept. Max Goldberg, Cutler's attorney, declined to comment.

Rohom Khonsari, who prosecuted Cutler for the State Attorney's Office and asked the court for at least seven years, said he was pleased with the sentence.

"A message was sent that you can't pick on individuals who are homeless and get away with it," Khonsari said.

Cutler, his cousin and another friend decided to pick on some "bums" on Dec. 30, 2005, after drinking in Ybor City. Around 3:25 a.m., they approached a group of sleeping homeless men near Demens Landing. Cutler stabbed one of them in the left forearm after waking him up.

The two other men with Cutler that night - Jason Coffee, 20, the driver, and Anthony Hale, 22, the cousin who went out with Cutler to attack the homeless - have cooperated with authorities. They face misdemeanor charges.

The homeless man, Steven Witt, attended Cutler's sentencing Monday and showed Bulone the scar on his arm. He said he is still homeless, and recently lost a job because he no longer has any sensation in that arm because of the stabbing.

"I don't know if I'll ever have feeling back," Witt, now 56, told the court. "I just don't understand why he did it."

Cutler's family members were also flabbergasted by the stabbing. Cutler's previous arrests were mostly related to driving violations.

"He always called me on my birthdays," said his father, Mark Cutler. "He really wasn't brought up this way. I don't understand what happened."

Goldberg, Cutler's attorney, had argued that his client was "remorseful" for the attack, adding that Cutler was intoxicated and "has no independent recollection of the incident."

In a brief statement, Cutler said that he was sorry.

"I don't know who the victim is, but I'd like to apologize to him," he said.

But Khonsari argued that Cutler should receive a stiff sentence because of the nature of the crime.

"This is an absolutely senseless stabbing of someone who was just trying to sleep," Khonsari said. "The facts of this case, are, for lack of a better word, atrocious."

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 727 893-8472.

Fast Facts:

 

By the numbers

The number of homeless people in Pinellas County jumped 10 percent from last year to this, from 4,710 in 2006 to 5,195 in 2007. The Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless conducted its annual homeless count on Jan. 29, sending volunteers to parks, soup kitchens, drop-in centers and day labor sites. While the survey found 5,195 homeless that day, the coalition estimated there will be roughly 20,764 incidents of individual homelessness in Pinellas this year. The survey found that:

43 percent of respondents reported working within the last month.

68 percent reported being disabled by physical, mental health or substance abuse problems.

18.5 percent were under 18.

54 percent said their most important need was affordable housing.