Gabriel Truitt, First Suspect’s Brother,
Faces Murder Arson Counts, Still At Large
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Gabriel Truitt, the brother of the man originally arrested in the Dec. 29 fatal fire at 5 Walling Ave., has been indicted for first-degree murder and other counts, District Attorney John Muehl said a few minutes ago.
Truitt’s brother, Terrence, spent five weeks in Otsego County Jail, but was freed Feb. 11 when it became clear to authorities he had not committed the crime.
A grand jury yesterday returned four counts against Gabriel Truitt. In addition to first-degree murder, that included one count of first-degree arson, and two counts of second-degree murder.
“Our theory is he intended to kill his ex-girlfriend,” Muehl said, “but instead he killed Mr. Heller,” referring to John Heller, 38, who lived in the third-floor apartment. That he intended to commit a murder is transferrable, even though Heller was not the intended victim, he said.
Truitt is not in police custody, and the D.A. said finding and arresting the suspect is now the responsibility of the Oneonta Police Department, which will circulate the warrant widely among police agencies.
“It’s a serious charge,” said Muehl. “Everybody everywhere will be looking for him … We’ll find him.”
The suspect, who operated Tru Cuts, a barbershop at 40 Ford Ave., since emptied out, was last known to be in Connecticut, but may not be there now.
The evidence in hand is that Gabriel saw his ex-girlfriend with someone else on the evening of Dec. 29, got into a fight, was arrested and spent several hours in the city lockup; released, it is alleged he went to the Walling Avenue home and set a fire outside the woman’s second-floor apartment.
The flames, however, raced up the stairs into the third-story apartment, leading to Heller’s death.
A former fireman, Heller has been hailed as a hero, rescuing his own fiancee and four nephews who were sleeping over at his house before being trapped by the flames.
Authorities believe Terrence, fearful something would happen, headed over to 5 Walling. Finding it in flames, he went into the house but was forced out by the fire, covered with soot and burns, which led city police to arrest him initially instead of the brother.