Truitt Guilty Of Arson, Murder
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.ALLOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – It took just over two hours for the jury to find Gabriel Trutt, 33, guilty of arson and murder in the Dec. 29, 2018, fatal fire at 5 Walling Ave., Oneonta, that killed John Heller.
Heller, a former Oneonta fireman, got his four nephews and fiancée to safety before he was trapped in the third-floor apartment and succumbed to the smoke. He was hailed as a hero.
“I’m thrilled, but this isn’t about whether I won or lost,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “This really is justice. He was guilty and the evidence was overwhelming. We can’t bring John back, but we did as much as we could for him.”
Truitt betrayed no emotion as the verdict was read. He was found guilty of Arson in the first degree, Murder in the first degree and two counts of Murder in the second degree.
Testimony in the case took six days. On Monday, Jan. 6, Amber Roe, Heller’s fiancée, took the stand to describe the morning of the fire.
“I had to do it for John,” she said this afternoon. “It was the only thing I could do for him to get justice, and I wanted to do everything I could.”
“On the stand, Rochelle Engler said that Gabriel told her, ‘it is what it is,’ when he told her about the fire,” said Gayle Heller, John’s mother. “Let him live by that now.”
The strongest piece of evidence, Muehl said, was the surveillance video from Tru Cuts barber shop, where Truitt worked as a barber. In it, Truitt is seen crouching down, retrieving two bottles of isopropyl alcohol and leaving. A few moments later, cameras outside the Center Street Deli recorded him walking in the direction of Walling Avenue.
“That’s when I knew who started the fire,” he said.
As his last piece of evidence on Tuesday, Jan. 28, Muehl showed a video of the police interviewing Truitt, who told them he never left the Tru Cuts barber shop, but that his brother, Terrence Truitt, left and came back in a cab.
“I wanted the jury to see how ridiculous it was,” he said. “I wanted them to see that everything he said was contradicted by all the other testimony I presented. He said he never left the barber shop, that he wasn’t jealous of Heather Engler, and it was all one big lie. I wanted the jury to walk away knowing what he was.”
Muehl has indicated he will ask for life in prison; County Judge Brian Burns set Truitt’s sentencing for 9 a.m. Friday, April 3.
“We’re elated and thankful that he can’t do this to anybody else,” said Erika Heller, John’s sister-in-law and mother of Donovan, 9, Maddox, 7, Macall, 5 and Rawley, 2, the four nephews that he saved.