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Man Convicted of First-Degree Murder in 2015 Richland Shooting

March 20, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Monica W. Furber, 215.348.6297, mwfurber@buckscounty.org

Nicholas Kovatto

A Bucks County jury today convicted a West Rockhill Township man of first-degree murder for fatally firing five bullets into the head of another man outside a mutual friend’s house in Richland Township.

Police found Nicholas Kovatto, 38, smoking a cigarette and drinking a can of beer only 20 feet from where the body of his victim, 32-year-old Eric Kramer, lay sprawled in the gravel driveway. The two were onetime friends who had been quarreling, witnesses said.

The jury deliberated approximately two hours before finding Kovatto guilty of first-degree murder, possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine, receiving stolen property and possession of an instrument of crime.

In a separate decision after the jury verdict, President Judge Jeffrey L. Finley convicted Kovatto of illegally possessing firearms. Kovatto was prohibited from having guns because of an attempted burglary conviction in Lehigh County. The firearms charge was severed from the rest of the case so that the jury would not be prejudiced by hearing of Kovatto’s prior record.

Kovatto automatically faces life in prison for the murder, but Finley deferred sentencing for up to 90 days to allow for a presentencing investigation to be conducted. The judge has the option to give Kovatto, as punishment for his other crimes, additional prison time consecutive to his life sentence.

The murder occurred on Nov. 13, 2015, while Kovatto was visiting the home of a friend, James Cressman, in the 100 block of Richlandtown Pike. The two men were drinking beer at a bar in a shed across the driveway from Cressman’s house when Cressman heard a vehicle pull up.

Cressman stepped out, thinking it was his girlfriend’s mother, but saw Kramer arriving instead. He announced Kramer’s arrival out loud and returned to the shed.

Kovatto, hearing Kramer’s name, walked out of the shed. Moments later, Cressman testified, he heard three quick gunshots and looked out to see Kramer lying in the driveway. He then saw the flash of Kovatto’s weapon as Kovatto fired two more bullets into the front of Kramer’s head.

Terrified, Cressman ran away and hid in the brush, calling friends for help and to warn them about Kovatto’s behavior. He then called 911.

Kovatto, meanwhile, buried the murder weapon – a stolen .22-caliber handgun – by shoving it into the dirt in a nearby woods and covering it with a paver stone. He tried unsuccessfully to drag Kramer’s body into the trunk of the victim’s car, but returned to the bar as he heard police approaching.

When police arrived at Cressman’s shed, they found Kovatto finishing his beer and having a smoke inside.

“Nothing is going on,” Kovatto told the arriving officers, according to testimony in the five-day trial. “I don’t know what you are doing here. The police are not needed here.”

“Those,” Deputy District Attorney Monica W. Furber argued to the jury, “are the words of a killer.”

The killing was premeditated and intentional, Furber said, because Kovatto made a decision to fire six shots at Kramer’s head, five of which found their mark.

Firing a gun one time at a vital body part is enough to prove an intent to kill, Furber told the jury. “We don’t have just one shot,” she said. “We have six.”

Kovatto’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Nathan Criste, called the case “a murder mystery,” in which his client was “a patsy,” suggesting that the killing could have been committed by Cressman instead.

“There is no motive for this shooting. None that we know of,” Criste told jurors in his closing argument. “People don’t murder people for no reason. There is something behind this, but do you know what it is?”

As for Kovatto’s nonchalant demeanor when police arrived, Criste said: “He had done nothing wrong. He wasn’t going to run.”

Furber countered that Kramer’s blood was found on one of Kovatto’s boots, and that physical evidence at the scene showed that Kovatto had tried to drag the victim to his car in an effort to hide the body before police arrived.

A subsequent search of Kovatto’s apartment found two guns that had been stolen from the same person who had owned the gun used in the murder. Also in Kovatto’s apartment were bullets identical to those later recovered from Kramer’s body.

Detectives also found evidence in the apartment that Kovatto was selling methamphetamine. They seized eight grams of the drug, $1,750 in cash and paraphernalia used in packaging and selling it.

“This defendant, Nicholas Kovatto, executed the victim, Eric Kramer,” Furber told the jury.

Cressman, she pointed out, was terrified after witnessing the killing, and “did what every one of us would have done. He ran for his life.”

As for Kovatto, “Does he even pick up the phone?” Furber argued. “What does he do? He lights up a cigarette, and he continues to drink his beer.”

Assisting Furber in the prosecution was Assistant District Attorney Ashley C. Towhey. The case was investigated by the Bucks County Detectives and the Richland Township Police Department.

Approved for release by Gregg D. Shore, First Assistant District Attorney. 

Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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