Chesterton Tribune

Liberty Township man pleads guilty to murder of Luke Oil clerk

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The Liberty Township man who police say admitted bludgeoning a Luke Oil clerk to death in December has pleaded guilty to the robbery-murder.

On Monday Bruce Guess, 18, formerly of 51 E. U.S. Highway 6, pleaded guilty before Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford to both charges filed against him in connection with the death of Portage resident Barbara Heckman: felony murder, punishable by a term of 45 to 65 years; and robbery, a Class A felony punishable by a term of 20 to 50 years.

There was no agreement with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office under which Guess tendered his plea, and he did so without expectation of a dismissal or downgrading of either of the charges and without expectation of a reduced sentence, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Cheryl Polarek told the Chesterton Tribune on Tuesday. “He pleaded cold,” she said.

In May Guess’s co-defendant, Steven J. Jorden, 19, formerly of 1117 Winter Park Drive in Liberty Township, did plead guilty to felony murder under an agreement which gave him the opportunity to testify against Guess at Guess’s trial. In exchange for the plea, two additional charges against Jorden were dismissed: robbery and revocation of probation. Jorden’s plea agreement does not provide for any reduced sentence, although his willingness to have testified against Guess could conceivably mitigate it. Jorden’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 3 before Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper.

Guess’s apparently cold-pleaded in recognition of the difficulty of mounting a viable defense, Polarek said. “I think Guess knew there was no getting out of it.” Guess already admitted to investigators that he was the one who actually struck Heckman in the back of the head with a mini sledge hammer on the night of Friday, Dec. 19, in the course of robbing the Luke Oil at 3 E. U.S. 6 in Liberty Township, the Porter County Sheriff’s Police has said. And Jorden’s testimony against him would have been damning.

On Monday Guess gave this account of the events leading to Heckman’s murder, although Polarek did cast doubt on the truthfulness of some of the details. Jorden, Guess stated, was the one who brought the mini sledge hammer to the scene, and it was Guess’s role to distract Heckman at the counter while Jorden struck her with the hammer. Jorden did not do so, Guess stated, Heckman was then taken to the men’s restroom, and there Guess himself struck her.

A fellow employee found Heckman dead around 11:20 p.m., lying face down in the men’s restroom, with massive blunt force trauma to the back of the head.

PCSP investigators subsequently discovered a red shirt wrapped around the hammer in the manager’s office, blood spatter at the entrance to the business and leading from the front door to the cashier’s counter, and an open safe. Cigarette cartons had been pulled from shelves and the video surveillance system in the manager’s office had been tampered with in an attempt to recover images.

The PCSP cracked the case quickly, only 12 hours after the murder, and both Guess and Jorden were taken into custody on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 20, with assistance provided by Heckman’s fellow employee, the fellow employee’s husband, and Jorden’s girlfriend. Recovered from beneath Jorden’s girlfriend’s mobile home at 1118 Winter Park Drive were a knife, black garbage bags containing cigarette cartons, and coin rolls, while what looked like blood was seen on the door of the trailer.

In statements to investigators, both Guess and Jorden admitted luring Heckman into the men’s restroom, where Guess struck her three times in the head, the PCSP said.

The Luke Oil, located at the northeast intersection of Meridian Road and U.S. 6, is just across the street and kitty-corner from the site of the old Luke Oil business, where, on Aug. 10, 1999, Chesterton High School graduate Kathryn Pokorny, 18, was shot and killed in the course of a robbery while she was working the night shift alone, as Heckman had been working alone, as duty clerk.

Reggion Deon Slater, 29 at the time, later pleaded guilty to murder, criminal deviate conduct, and robbery in exchange for the state’s withdrawing its request for the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Several years later the business was demolished and the site remains vacant.




Posted 7/1/2009