Attorneys made opening arguments Thursday morning in the murder and arson trial of Gabriel Truitt, in Otsego County Court. Truitt is accused of setting fire to 5 Walling Ave., in Oneonta, in December of 2018. Former Oneonta firefighter, John Heller, died in the fire, but not before making sure everyone else made it out of the home safely, including his four young nephews.
"Amber got out on the roof and John started handing the kids out and the fire progressed so quickly that as they're getting the children out, the smoke is getting heavier and heavier and heavier," said Otsego County District Attorney, John Muehl, who's prosecuting the case.
Muehl says Truitt lit the fire for revenge against another woman who lives in the home.
"Heather Engler and the defendant had sort of an on again off again relationship. They find out that it appears that that night, earlier that night, Heather Engler was talking to someone else, another male. Defendant became jealous. There was a fight between these two individuals," Muehl told jurors during opening arguments. "You'll be able to see from the pictures that a flammable liquid had run under her door and it burned and scorched the hardwood floors."
Muehl says Truitt showed an abject disregard for anyone but himself.
"His motive was revenge. He was mad at Heather Engler. Mad to the point that he was going to try to kill her and didn't care about the other residents who lived in the building," said Muehl.
Defense Attorney, Michael Trosset, told jurors the case is complex and that early evidence lead police to a different suspect.
"You will learn Gabriel's brother spent nearly a month in jail on charges before being released and the charges dropped against him," said Trosset. "Take each bit of evidence with a grain of salt and engage in a thoughtful review of all the evidence, together with what seems to be the missing evidence."
Trossett had another word for the evidence in the case.
"It amounts to an editorial in many ways that will lack any evidence of Gabriel Truitt being at 5 Walling Avenue that night," said Trosset.
Witness testimony is expected to last several days. The trial is expected to last approximately two weeks.