At Sentencing, Heller’s Family Lashes Truitt

‘He Can’t Destroy Anyone Else’s Life Ever Again’




Erika Heller, center, criticizes Gabriel Truitt, foreground, for rolling his eyes as she read her victim’s impact statement at Truitt’s sentencing this morning. Truitt, who was found guilty of the arson and murder of John Heller in January, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Truitt slouches in his chair as County Judge Brian Burns reads off a list of his prior convictions, starting when he was 17 years old.

COOPERSTOWN – Erika Heller, John Heller’s sister-in-law, did not hold back as she read her victim’s impact statement at the sentencing of Gabriel Truitt in Otsego County Court this morning.

“You stole John from us,” she said. “For four young boys, you stole childhood and innocence and peace of mind. We are all serving a life sentence because of the selfish decision you made. You should have to do the same.”

Truitt, 35, was sentenced to life without parole for the murder of John Heller, who died rescuing his fiancée, Amber Roe, and his four nephews after Truitt set a fire in the 5 Walling Ave. apartment house where they lived in an attempt to murder his girlfriend, Heather Engler, who he had fought with prior to setting the fire on Dec. 29, 2018.

Truitt was found guilty in less than two hours after a six-day trial in January.

“Amber had a soulmate,” said the sister-in-law. “You stole an entire marriage from her, and entire future full of beloved memories.”

Truitt slouched in his seat as Heller read her statement.

“You want roll your eyes at me?” Heller snapped at Truitt from the stand. “I’ve waited long enough to say all this, you can show some respect.”

“There is an 11-year-old who is afraid to go to sleep at night,” she continued. “There is a 9-year-old who will have to see his burn scars for the rest of his life, an ever-present reminder that he was the very last person to touch or see his uncle alive. There is a 6-year-old who doesn’t fear monsters in his closet because when he was 5, you became the face of all that is evil to him. And there is a 4-year-old who knows that he almost died not once, but twice in one horrific night.”

Truitt said, “Go to hell” to Heller as she walked off the stand.

Judge Brian Burns offered Truitt a chance to make a statement before imposing sentencing.

“I didn’t do it,” he said. “I’ll be back.”

John’s parents, John and Gayle Heller, hug his aunt, Sharon Costello, after Judge Burns imposed the life without parole sentence.

“Normally I don’t make a statement at sentencing,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “But Mr. Truitt may be one of the most dangerous people I have ever prosecuted. He is selfish, he has no morals, not even his own family matters. He was having an affair with Heather Engler, cheating on the mother of his children. He tried to get his own brother to commit perjury, and even worse, he was content to let his brother sit in jail while he was on the run.”

In addition to the life sentence, Truitt was also sentenced 25-to-life on both charges of second-degree murder, and 25-to-life on the arson charge.

“I find your denial without meaning,” said Burns. “Since your late teens, you have broken the law the thievery, dishonesty, selfishness and violence. You have demonstrated an utter lack of remorse. The only rational response is to remove you from society.”

Heller’s family was visibly relieved when Burns read the sentence.

“I feel lighter,” said Erika Heller. “I’m grateful the judge saw him for exactly who he is.”

“I’m happy, but it’s not going to help,” said Amber Roe, who testified at the trial. “He turned a fairy tale into a tragedy. I’m just glad he can’t destroy anyone else’s life ever again.”

Truitt clapped as he was escorted past the family. “I hope you’re happy now,” he said.

“He got what he deserved,” said Gayle Heller, John’s mother. “But the life sentence we’re serving is so much more severe than his.”

3 thoughts on “At Sentencing, Heller’s Family Lashes Truitt

  1. Betsy "Prize" to my 4 grandsons.

    Long awaited justice for Johnny. I’m sure he was right there with us.

  2. Brenda Davies

    I am truly sorry for the loss of John! He was a true HEROE in this crazy world. Hugs and prayers for all of you, I’m elated Justice was served. Hang on tighter to Amber and the four boys as their pain heals. Much love. Brenda Davies

  3. Lacy

    John Muehl and Brian Burns are worse criminals than this guy they ambushed by stacking the jury in this trial. They want you to see them as protectors and heroes which they are neither. They simply gave this defendant and possible murderer and second chance at freedom via appeal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Prove you're not a robot: *