News of Otsego County

Gabriel Truitt trial

‘I Had To Do It For John’ Fiancee Recalls At Guilty Verdict

Truitt Guilty Of Arson, Murder

‘I Had To Do It For John,’

Fiancee Declares At Verdict

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Erika Heller, left, embraces Amber Roe, fiancee of the late John Heller, who died rescuing her and Erika’s four sons from a fire that Gabriel Truitt was found guilty of setting this afternoon. (Libby Cudmore/

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.”





Gabriel Truitt, right, stands as the jury reads the “guilty” verdict on the charges of arson in the first degree, murder in the first degree, and two counts of murder in the second degree. (Libby Cudmore/

COOPERSTOWN – Shortly after noon today, a jury found Gabriel Truitt guilty on all four counts of arson and murder charges in the Dec. 29, 2018, early morning fire at 5 Whalling Ave., Oneonta, where former Oneonta firefighter John Heller died.

This is a developing story; please check back this afternoon for details.


Proceedings Underway in Truitt Case

Investigator Testimony: Accelerant Under Door

Accelerant Isopropyl Alcohol, Arson Expert Testifies

Girlfriend: Suspect Fought Before Fatal Fire Set

Brother Disavows Testimony To Grand Jury, Police

District Attorney Challenges Truitt’s Brother

In Closing Statements, Attorneys Debate Timeline

In Closing Statements, Attorneys Debate Timeline

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.

D.A. Challenges Truitt’s Brother


D.A. Challenges

Truitt’s Brother

District Attorney John Muehl, left, and ADA Will Green watch a videotape of Terrence Truitt’s interrogation by OPD during this morning’s testimony. (Libby Cudmore/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

COOPERSTOWN – In his testimony this morning, Terrence Truitt, the older brother of defendant Gabriel Truitt, said he went to 5 Walling Ave. – home of Heather Engler – to help his brother look for the keys he’d lost that night following a fight at the Sip & Sail Tavern.

District Attorney John Meuhl wasn’t buying it.

“The Sip & Sail is the opposite direction of Walling Avenue,” he said. “You went to Heather’s Engler place because you knew what your brother was going to do.”

Brother Refutes Grand Jury, Police Testimony


Brother Disavows

Testimony He Gave

Grand Jury, Police

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

The accused, Gabriel Truitt, center, listens as his brother Terrence testifies this afternoon. With him are legal assistant Lisa Harvey and Attorney David Taylor. (Libby Cudmore/

COOPERSTOWN – Gabriel Truitt’s defense lawyers this afternoon declared they hadn’t been provided a videotape of his brother Terrence speaking with OPD officers in February 2018 brought the fatal-arson trial to a temporary standstill this afternoon.

Terrence also told the court the testimony he would give would be at odds with the statements he gave to grand jury and police, further muddying the waters.  “He had a sworn affidavit saying he lied,” said District Attorney John Muehl.

County Judge Brian Burns advised the brother he may have already committed perjury and that he did have the right to remain silent, as well as a chance to get a lawyer.

Girlfriend:  Truitt In Fight Before Fatal Arson Fire Set


Girlfriend:  Suspect Fought

Before Fatal Arson Fire Set

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

John Heller died in the Dec. 30, 2018, fire; Truitt is accused of setting it.

COOPERSTOWN – When Heather Engler woke up on Dec. 28 after staying with a friend on Rose Avenue, she had two missed calls and a message from her stepmother.

“She texted me to say that Gabriel (Truitt) had messaged her to say my house was on fire,” Engler testified. “I got up and ran to my apartment, and the fire trucks were already there.”

In the third day of testimony, Engler, who had previously been in a “rocky” romantic relationship with Truitt, testified that although she had plans with him that night, he didn’t respond to text messages, and she went out with another friend, who she identified as “Niko.”

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