Truitt Brother, Girlfriend May Testify
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – The brother and the ex-girlfriend of Gabriel Truitt, 33, may be called to testify in the trial now underway in Otsego County Court.
They are Terrence Truitt and Heather Engler, and Gabriel is the Oneonta man charged with arson and first-degree murder in the death of former Oneonta firefighter John Heller on Dec. 30, 2018.
Jury selection began Tuesday, Jan 21, with County Judge Brian Burns presiding. District Attorney John Muehl is prosecuting; Truitt is represented by Public Defender Michael Trossett.
In addition the first-degree charges of arson and murder, Truitt is also charged with two counts of murder in the second degree.
“The defendant is presumed innocent,” Burns instructed potential jurors. “It’s on the district attorney to overcome that and prove, with the evidence, that the defendant is guilty.”
Muehl is alleging Truitt was attempting to kill Engler by setting fire to the door of her apartment at 5 Walling Ave. Instead, according to state fire investigators, a draft carried the fire up the stairs to the third-floor apartment, where Heller and his fiancée, Amber Roe, were hosting a sleepover for their four nephews. Heller helped Roe and the boys escape through the window, but was then overcome by smoke and died in the apartment.
“Transferred Intent applies in this case,” said Burns. “Under our laws, if you intend to commit a crime against Person A and you engage in that conduct against Person A, but injure or kill Person B by mistake, the intent of harm to the first person is transferred to the second, and the jury may find that person guilty.”
Similarly, he said a charge of Felony Murder – where the accused allegedly committed a crime so dangerous that someone was killed in the act of that crime – could also apply, and the jury could use that to find the defendant guilty.
Terrence Truitt, allegedly seen leaving the scene with soot on his arms, was originally arrested and charged with arson, and spent five weeks in the Otsego County Jail before evidence pointed to his brother.
Engler’s stepmother, Rochelle Denise Smith-Engler, alleged that her stepdaughter was a victim of domestic violence at the defendant’s hands.
In addition to Truitt and Engler, Muehl has said he planned to call more than 30 witnesses to testify, including police and fire personnel, as well as Roe, Heller’s fiancée.