Jurors get trial of man accused of killing romantic rival at Orting-area treehouse

Prosecutors say jealously and rage led 44-year-old Troy Joe Chute to kill a romantic rival at a remote Pierce County tree house last year and to then burn down the crime scene.

Chute says he shot 34-year-old Jacob Nicholas in self defense March 12, 2018.

Attorneys made closing arguments in Superior Court on Wednesday and jurors got the case after several weeks of trial.

Chute is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree arson and first-degree assault.

Both Chute and Nicholas were in love with the same woman, and Chute’s obsession with her morphed into premeditated murder, deputy prosecutor Rosie Martinelli told the jury.

She said escalating text messages showed Chute’s growing frustration with the relationship between Nicholas and the woman.

Then Chute’s Harley motorcycle was stolen, and he believed Nicholas responsible.

A sarcastic text Nicholas sent about the bike was the last straw for Chute, she argued.

Before the shooting Chute told others he was upset about someone stealing his motorcycle and “screwing” his girlfriend, Martinelli said.

“The defendant made a series of bad choices that ultimately led to Jake Nicholas’ death,” she said.

Chute headed to the treehouse where the woman was staying along the Carbon River near Orting.

Later Nicholas arrived, and shots were fired.

Chute allegedly ended up shooting the woman in the foot, and Nicholas in the chest.

Chute got the woman into a wheel barrow and took her to someone who got her help.

Then he left and later was found hiding in the bushes near the river, Martinelli said.

The woman still walks with a limp, the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Bryan Hershman told jurors there were “some terrible, terrible dynamics that led to a lethal scene.”

“There’s no intensity,” Hershman said of the text messages prior to the shooting. “There’s no build up.”

Chute was being a gentleman, trying to tell Nicholas to give the woman space she was asking for, Hershman said.

Chute didn’t mean to shoot the woman, Hershman said.

“Dropping a gun on a deck is what started this whole thing,” he said.

He argued Chute shot Nicholas in self defense.

“My client shot Jake because he believed he was going to have responsive fire,” Hershman said. “... He had to make a spontaneous decision right now.”

Hershman also argued the investigation into the fire was incompetent and said that evidence wasn’t properly collected after the blaze. He called a reproduction that was done a “Home Depot ... science project” that involved an artificial log.

He noted that the pipe of the woodstove was not installed up to code.

Hershman said the treehouse was built to look like a log cabin but was actually half logs secured to plywood, making it more flammable than a regular log cabin.

The treehouse had burned down when investigators arrived.

On rebuttal, Martinelli questioned how a gun ended up perfectly placed under the left arm of Nicholas’ body in the rubble of the crime scene. He was right handed, she said.

Chute, she argued, was the only person in the area able to do that.

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Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.