Chesterton Tribune

Jorden sentenced to 57 years in Luke Oil murder

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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 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 9/24/2009