QUEENSBURY — A Glens Falls man who was involved in a drug deal that led to a fatal stabbing in Glens Falls in June pleaded guilty Wednesday to two charges, netting a prison sentence of up to 7 years for his role in the case and an earlier robbery.
Richard L. Rothaupt pleaded guilty to tampering with physical evidence, a felony, and misdemeanor criminal possession of a controlled substance for removing a bag of prescription drugs from the scene of a fight that led to the stabbing death of Charles Werner. Police said Werner was killed during a drug deal gone bad, but Rothaupt was not accused of involvement in the actual fight.
Rothaupt, 25, was not required as part of his plea to cooperate or testify against his remaining co-defendants, though he admitted during his sentencing that he saw one man hold down the victim while the other stabbed him. He did not specify which man did what.
Rothaupt was sentenced to 2-1/3 to 7 years in prison for the guilty pleas as well as to satisfy a probation violation charge originating from a robbery conviction months earlier that stemmed from his theft of money and a cellphone from people who sought to buy crack cocaine from him.
Rothaupt told Warren County Judge John Hall that he was sorry about his actions, but was concerned he was “getting hammered” in the case when one of the men involved in the stabbing was offered a plea deal with a sentence similar to his.
He said he was across the street when he witnessed the fatal confrontation.
“I tried saving the guy that got stabbed. I really had no part in what happened, I just happened to be there,” Rothaupt said. “I watched somebody hold a man down while another guy stabbed him. I feel bad that somebody lost their life over something so petty.”
His lawyer, Tucker Stanclift, said Rothaupt tried to help Werner by giving him medical assistance before help arrived.
“He went across the street and did the best he could to apply pressure to save this young man’s life,” Stanclift said.
Stanclift said Warren County prosecutors initially sought Rothaupt’s cooperation, but he instead opted to plead guilty to all of the charges against him and seek mercy from Hall.
Rothaupt could still be subpoenaed to testify at whatever trials occur in the case, and would have to give truthful testimony or risk a perjury charge.
Werner, 31, of Glens Falls, was killed after he tried to steal the drugs from two of Rothaupt’s friends on June 8, a theft that led to a brawl where Werner was stabbed twice. Police said Werner grabbed a bag of Xanax pills and tried to flee, but was caught on Union Street by two men who face homicide charges for the stabbing.
Warren County Assistant District Attorney Travis Brown told Hall that Rothaupt was involved in setting up the drug deal. He said Rothaupt “feigns as if he was a hero,” but instead pocketed the drugs that were at the center of the case before police arrived, and then hid them from police.
“He’s no hero. He was a witness who tampered with evidence in this case,” Brown said.
The two men accused of killing Werner, Glens Falls residents Skylar C. Phillips and Nicholas Hamel, are likely headed to trial early next year.
Phillips, 19, allegedly stabbed Werner, and faces second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter as well as lesser counts, while Hamel, 19, was charged with first-degree manslaughter, assault and lesser charges for his alleged role in restraining Werner as he was stabbed.
Both men have pleaded not guilty. Hamel turned down a plea offer last month that would have required a guilty plea to felony assault, and a sentence of between 2 and 7 years in state prison.
Hamel and Phillips are being held in Warren County Jail pending sentencing. A fourth person charged in the case, Erica L. Cooper, 34, of Queensbury, faces a felony count of criminal possession of a controlled substance for her alleged role in the drug sale.
Werner was a lifelong resident of the Glens Falls area who had a lengthy history of drug abuse that his family said stemmed from mental illness, but he was also known for being a good mechanic and a “caring and funny, loving brother, uncle and father.”