WEST CHESTER – Jurors hearing the case of a Lancaster County man accused of threatening to gun down co-workers at a Honey Brook manufacturing plant at Christmastime needed just 35 minutes to return with a verdict Wednesday.
The panel of eight men and four women found Gregory Lee Kautz guilty of one count of terroristic threats, a first-degree misdemeanor, stemming from incidents that played out over several weeks in October and November 2011. They began their deliberations at 10:30 a.m. and announced they had a verdict at 11:05 a.m.
Kautz, 45, of Ephrata, left Common Pleas Senior Judge Ronald Nagle’s courtroom with his attorney and family members without speaking, after Nagle set his sentencing date for Jan. 16. The threats charge carries with it a possible maximum sentence of 2½ to five years in state prison.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Ost-Prisco in his closing statement on Tuesday referenced recent incidents of gun violence in the United States when telling the jury why those who listened as Kautz said he would be “the last man standing” when he came to work with guns he owned took him seriously.
“We live in a world where there seem to be mass shootings all the time,” the prosecutor said. “Just like you can’t shout ‘fire’ in a theater, you can’t say ‘I’m going to bring a gun to work and shoot people and make the news on Christmas Day.’ The stakes are too high.”
Kautz’s attorney, Eric Winter of Reading, had argued that the jury should find his client not guilty because the state police had not taken the alleged threats seriously. Even though the statements that Kautz was said to have made to his co-workers were made in the fall of 2011, state police did not interview the workers until January 2012 and Kautz was not charged until Jan. 17.
According to an arrest affidavit filed by state Trooper Daniel Covert, workers at the RPC Bramiage-Wiko Co. told him they heard Kautz threaten to kill a supervisor, Carol Eberly, and others. One worker quoted him as saying “if they start me on another machine over here you are gonna’ see my tail lights, and I’m coming back shooting and Carol is my first target.”
The trooper also said the workers told him Kautz said he would do the shooting “around Christmas so that it was memorable,” and that he had almost committed a similar crime “when he was fired from his last job.”
In her testimony Tuesday, Eberly said that she had apparently angered Kautz by moving him from one of the faster-paced machines on the manufacturing floor to a slower one to give him a break. The company makes plastic cups for single serving coffee makers.
“He said he was upset because he didn’t like that job,” Eberly said under questioning by Ost-Prisco. “He was angry and he was going to shoot me.”
Eberly, a small woman with shoulder length blond hair, said at first she “let it go” because she thought Kautz was having a bad day and as blowing off steam. But when she continued to hear that he had repeated the threats to other employees, she began to take things seriously, she said.
“I started getting a little worried,” she testified. Co-workers would accompany her on breaks so she would not be alone. “I was afraid he would do something because he did not let it go.”
When Covert confronted Kautz with the allegations, he denied making he threats. But in testimony, Covert also said that Kautz denied owning any guns, although records showed he had purchased four guns in Pennsylvania and had a concealed weapons permit in Lancaster. Ost-Prisco argued that his fabrications indicated a consciousness of guilt.
Ost-Prisco declined to comment on whether he would ask Nagle to sentence Kautz to a prison term, or to place him on probation. Nagle also found Kautz guilty of a summary charge of harassment.