Steven M. Jorden, one of the two Liberty Township men who pleaded guilty
this summer to the robbery-homicide of Luke Oil clerk Barbara Heckman in
December 2008, has been sentenced to 57 years in prison.
On Tuesday Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper imposed a sentence on
Jorden just eight years shy of the maximum 65 years, Deputy Prosecuting
Attorney Cheryl Polarek told the Chesterton Tribune on Wednesday.
Jorden, 19, formerly of 1119 Winterpark Drive, will be eligible for release
after serving half of his sentence: 28 years, six months.
Under a plead-and-argue agreement reached in May with the Prosecuting
Attorney’s Office, Jorden pleaded guilty to felony murder—punishable by a
term of 45 to 65 years—and agreed to testify against his co-defendant, Bruce
Guess, 18, formerly of 51 E. U.S. Highway 6. In exchange, two additional
charges against Jorden were dismissed: robbery, a Class A felony punishable
by a term of 20 to 50 years; and revocation of probation.
Guess’ own guilty plea in June obviated the need for Jorden to testify
against him at trial. Guess admitted to investigators shortly after his
arrest that he was the one who actually bludgeoned Heckman to death with a
mini sledge hammer.
Even under the plea agreement, however, Jorden was facing a minimum of 45
non-suspendable years in the Department of Correction because he has
previously been convicted of Class C felony battery, pleaded down from an
original charge of Class B felony aggravated battery.
At Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Jorden’s attorney, Ken Elwood, argued for a
sentence on the lower end of the range on the grounds that Jorden suffers
from a learning disability and is a drug addict who was high at the time of
Heckman’s murder, Polarek told the Tribune.
Polarek argued in response that Jorden comes from a good family but made no
attempt himself to overcome his learning disability. “He’s stubborn, he
wouldn’t follow through, he wouldn’t take his medication,” she said. Polarek
also argued that there’s a difference between being an addict and simply
being a user.
“The defense also made a big deal of the fact that Jorden wasn’t the one who
swung the hammer,” Polarek added. “I argued that he could have stopped it.
He’s bigger than Guess and after the first blow, when Barbara Heckman was
still alive, he could have stepped in and brought it to an end but he
didn’t. Jorden’s got violent tendencies. He was an aggressive kid.”
Polarek noted that Heckman’s mother testified at the hearing, offered Jorden
her forgiveness, and expressed the hope that he would “find what he needs”
while incarcerated. “I thought that was very gracious,” she said.
A fellow employee found Heckman dead around 11:20 p.m. on Dec. 19, 2008,
lying face down in the men’s restroom of the Luke Oil at 3 E. U.S. 6 in
Liberty Township, with massive blunt force trauma to the back of the head.
The Porter County Sheriff’s Police cracked the case quickly, only 12 hours
after the murder, and Jorden and Guess were taken into custody on the
morning of Dec. 20. In statements to investigators, both Jorden and Guess
admitted luring Heckman into the men’s restroom, where Guess struck her in
the head three times with the mini sledge hammer.
Guess has pleaded guilty to murder and robbery and is facing a possible
maximum term of 115 years. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday by
Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford.
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
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.