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Truitt Case Heads To Jury

In Closing Statements,

Attorneys Debate Timeline

Public Defender Michael Trosset calls the timeline of the fire into question during his closing statements in the trial of Gabriel Truitt. (Libby Cudmore/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

District Attorney John Muehl confers with John Heller’s family in the courtroom.

COOPERSTOWN – For two minutes, District Attorney John Muehl stood in complete silence.

“Gabriel Truitt is at 5 Walling Avenue for two minutes,” he told the jury. “You may think that’s not much time, but you can get a lot done in two minutes, especially if you’ve planned to.”

Muehl, along with Public Defender Michael Trosset, made their closing statements this afternoon in the case of Gabriel Truitt, who is charged with arson and murder in the death of former firefighter John Heller.

Prior to closing statements, Trossett presented his case in just under an hour, calling two witnesses before resting.

The first, Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, an Atmospheric Science Researcher at SUNY Albany, testified that his researched showed the winds on Saturday, Dec. 29 at the time of the fire were blowing West/North West, seemingly contradicting testimony that a draft had carried the fire to the third floor.

The second, Christopher Lupold, a fire investigator with the state Department of Homeland Security, testified that the floor sample his department took from 5 Walling Avenue showed no evidence of Isopropyl Alcohol, which Muehl argued was the incendiary device.

However, on cross-examination, Muehl challenged his evidence gathering, suggesting that failure to take samples from the burned floor inside the apartment was why no signs of isopropyl alcohol showed up.

“We should have taken a sample from there as well,” said Lupold.

In his remarks, Trosset put up a timeline, questioning how the defendant could have gotten from Tru Cuts barber shop to 5 Walling Avenue, based on camera times and the time of the 911 call.

“You didn’t hear one witness who placed Gabriel Truitt at the scene,” he said. “The 911 call came in at 4:21:33 a.m., which, based on the 8-10 minutes it would have taken for the fire to become fully engaged, means that the fire would have had to start at 4:11-4:13 a.m., but the person walking past the Center Street Deli wouldn’t have been there any earlier than 4:14:47 a.m.”

He also called into question Heather Engler’s testimony. “Heather, who caused the fight, had lied to police in the past that resulted in charges against Gabriel,” he said. “She had plans with Gabriel, went with Niko and ended up with Darius. Ask yourself how much of her testimony you should believe.”

He also pointed out that Gabriel told Heather’s stepmother, Rochelle Engler, that he did not start the fire. “There is significant reasonable doubt,” he said. “I ask that you find Gabriel Truitt not guilty.”

But Muehl based his closing statements around his case that Gabriel had the means, motive and opportunity.

“He tried to call Heather at 4 a.m., but she blocked him, and that made him furious,” he said. “We know he arrived at Tru Cuts at 4:30:50 a.m. and that the first thing he does is pull out two bottles of rubbing alcohol. He’s in the barber shop 24 seconds and does nothing other than walk in, grab the bottles and walk out.”

He posted a timeline, like Trossett, but pointed out that Gabriel could have been running, shortening the time it took him to arrive at 5 Walling Ave., and that the fire wasn’t fully involved when 911 was called.

“You have to ask yourself, did he intent to kill?” he asked. “What other conclusion can you draw from the evidence that he dumped half a gallon of rubbing alcohol, torched it and ran? The only reasonable conclusion is that he wanted to kill Heather and he didn’t care if anyone else died. To believe otherwise is to believe that he was just taking his bottles of rubbing alcohol out for a walk at 4 in the morning.”

County Judge Brian Burns dismissed the jury for the day; deliberations are set to begin tomorrow morning.


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