Bruce Guess, 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 the maximum prison term possible.
On Monday Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford sentenced Guess to 85
years, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Frost told the Chesterton Tribune
Guess, 19, formerly of 51 E. U.S. Highway 6, will be eligible for release
after serving half of his sentence: 42 years, six months.
In June Guess cold-pleaded to both charges filed against him: murder,
punishable by a term of 45 to 65 years; and armed robbery with injury, a
Class A felony punishable by a term of 20 to 50 years. He did so without
benefit of an agreement with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, without
expectation of a dismissal or downgrading of either of the two charges, and
without expectation of a reduced sentence, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
said at the time.
Bradford duly sentenced Guess on Monday to the maximum term possible on the
murder charge: 65 years. But he could sentence Guess to only 20 years on the
robbery charge, Frost said—the maximum term possible for a Class B felony
robbery—because the “with injury” component which upgraded the charge to a
Class A felony is also a component of the murder charge. “It would be like
double jeopardy” to have sentenced Guess to 50 years on the robbery charge,
Frost explained, because doing so would, in essence, punish him twice for
the same crime.
Guess told investigators after his arrest—just hours after the murder—that
he was the one who actually bludgeoned Heckman to death with a mini sledge
hammer. His co-defendant, Steven Jorden, 19, formerly of 1119 Winterpark
Drive, was sentenced to 57 years in prison last week for his role in the
crime. Jorden had pleaded guilty to felony murder, in a plead-and-argue
agreement under which he agreed to testify against Guess in exchange for the
dismissal of two other charges filed against him: Class A felony robbery;
and revocation of probation. Guess’ guilty plea later in the summer obviated
the need for Jorden to testify against him at trial.
Bradford observed in sentencing that the Indiana Appellate Court has
indicated generally that a maximum sentence in a murder case requires the
“worst of the worst” test, Frost said. “And the judge couldn’t say that this
wasn’t one of the worst of the worst.”
Guess’ attorney, Peter Boyles, asked the judge to impose a total sentence of
65 years and argued that his client suffers from psychological problems,
Frost added. “But there was no evidence presented” of any such problems, he
Frost also noted that Guess has a “pretty extensive juvenile history” with
multiple delinquency felony charges.
In his plea in June Guess told the court that Jorden was the one who brought
the mini sledge hammer to the scene and it was Guess’ role to distract
Heckman at the counter while Jorden struck her with the hammer. Jorden did
not do so, Guess told the court, Heckman was then lured to the men’s room,
and there Guess himself struck her three times in the back of the head.
A fellow employee found Heckman dead around 11:20 p.m. on Friday, 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 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
Saturday, Dec. 20.
The Luke Oil, located at the northeast corner of the 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 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.