Update posted Wednesday, August 15 at 6:50 a.m.:
The jury ruled that William Gajdik met Indiana's habitual offender designation, opening the possibility for an additional 30 years to his sentence.
Gajdik was convicted in Illinois in 2001 on felony counts of Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, and Money Laundering. After serving his sentence for those crimes, Gajdik was caught and convicted of Burglary in Nebraska in 2007.
He was serving a prison sentence of no less than five years when he escaped from a Nebraska prison about two months before the burglary and shootings in Dearborn County.
During the first phase of the trial in Dearborn Circuit Court jurors were not allowed to know of Gajdik's prior convictions. Once the jury convicted him of Attempted Murder and all other charges Gajdik faced, jurors were informed of his criminal past and asked to determine if he was a habitual offender.
Original story posted Tuesday, August 14 at 5:17 p.m.:
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – Guilty on all counts was the verdict returned against William Gajdik, the escaped inmate from Nebraska who burglarized two homes and shot one homeowner with a stolen gun in 2011.
The jury took less than four hours to deliberate following a seven day trial in Dearborn Circuit Court which ended Tuesday. The panel of 12 determined Gajdik was guilty of all the charges he faced - Attempted Murder, Burglary, Robbery Causing Serious Bodily Injury, a second count of Burglary, Robbery with a Deadly Weapon, and Auto Theft.
“So overwhelming is the evidence that the defense didn’t even fight three of the counts,” Dearborn-Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard told the jury during final arguments.
The verdict came as sweet satisfaction for the two main victims in the crime. Gajdik shot Robert Tibbits in the back inside his home, permanently disabling him. T.J. Jacobs had to witness his own loaded gun pointed in his direction. Both were in attendance throughout the trial.
“We don’t underestimate the seriousness of this,” defense attorney John Watson said in not arguing whether Gajdik pulled the trigger or burglarized the homes, but whether he intended to use a stolen handgun to rob one homeowner and attempt to kill another.
Through the trial, jurors heard of the journey Gajdik made to Dearborn County after failing to return to a Nebraska low security prison as he was allowed out of the facility on a furlough July 29, 2011. Eventually, he would steal a car in Illinois and drive to northern Dearborn County, where his run from the law intersected with the routine lives of Robert Tibbits and T. J. Jacobs.
“Before leaving that prison, he signed a promise to return. I hope you help him fulfill that promise,” Deputy Prosecutor Joe Kisor implored jurors.
Thanks to the conviction, Gajdik appears likely to return to a prison cell. He faces a total of 93 years in prison.
Whatever sentence Gajdik received for the conviction, he could receive an additional 30 years. Following the conviction, the jurors were informed that prosecutors were seeking to add the habitual offender enhancement. Indiana law allows the enhancement for convicts who have two prior unrelated felonies.
Gajdik was convicted in Illinois in 2001 on felony Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, and Money Laundering. After serving his sentence for those crimes, Gajdik was caught and convicted of Burglary in Nebraska in 2007 and ordered to serve no less than five years in prison.
On the morning of September 6, Gajdik knocked on the door of two homes in the Bright area to see if anybody would answer, Negangard said. When those residents answered, he delivered a made-up excuse for knocking and ventured on.
At a third home on North Dearborn Road, nobody was inside. Gajdik broke into the home belonging to T.J. Jacobs, stuffing jewelry and money into a pillowcase from the victim’s bed. He would find a Glock .357 handgun in the bedroom as well.
About that time, Jacobs arrived home from work nearby and saw the stolen maroon Saturn Gajdik had left running in the driveway. Jacobs removed the key from the ignition, grabbed a hammer, and entered.
Gajdik fled the home only to find his getaway car keyless. He ran into the woods with Jacobs giving chase, Jacobs told investigators. After about a quarter-mile, Gajdik pulled the Glock on Jacobs.
“Oh shit,” Jacobs said, according to prosecutors.
“’Oh shit’ is right,” Gajdik replied as Jacobs relented the chase.
Jacobs would phone police to report the robbery burglary. As Gajdik made his way more than a mile west through woods and brush to Ruth Avenue in Logan Township, police began to swarm the area.
Gajdik happened upon Tibbits’ home and gained entry – the homeowners was at work – and hid. It was within minutes that Gajdik heard police walking and talking outside the home.
“He had been on the run since July 29. He had nowhere to take sanctuary and he became desperate,” Kisor said.
For the next approximately three hours, Gajdik would plan an escape and steal cash and items from Tibbits’ home. He helped himself to Gatorade in Tibbits’ kitchen.
That evening, Tibbits’ arrived home from the job he had worked for 30 years. As he stepped inside, Gajdik emerged from around the hallway corner. Without saying a word, Gajdik fired at a fleeing Tibbits, striking him in the back.
According to prosecutors, Gajdik later told investigators “Why would I need to say anything to him?”
Prosecutors said testimony showed the two men may have only been five to ten feet away from one another when the shot was fired. The blast of the hollow point bullet in the powerful stolen handgun sent Tibbits through the front screen door when her landed face down.
As Tibbits lay bleeding on his front step, Gajdik put the gun in his face and demanded the keys to his Ford Thunderbird. The shooter then drove off, managing to evade police in Dearborn County.
Negangard told the jury that Gajdik shot Tibbits with the intent to kill, a key necessity in the Attempted Murder conviction. “If this isn’t Attempted Murder I don’t know what is,” Negangard said.
Gary Sorge, Gajdik’s defense attorney, told jurors that if his client wanted Tibbits dead, he would be. “We know that as the victim was lying there. We know that there was another bullet in the gun, but he didn’t use it,” Sorge said.
Defense counsel attempted to persuade the jury that there was reasonable doubt over whether Gajdik had the intent to murder Tibbits. The attorney said Gajdik did not realize that the bullet had struck Tibbits in the back.
“While we may feel sympathy to individuals, the law says sympathy has no place here,” Watson said.
Negangard said Gajdik knew what he had done. Gajdik assumed Tibbits would bleed out and did not fire a second shot outside the home in fear that police would hear the shot, the prosecutor said.
With Gajdik gone, Tibbits began to call for help. Two neighbors, Duane Wilson and Angela Moore, heard his pleas and came to his aid by calling 911 and trying to stop the bleeding gunshot wound with bath towels.
The bullet had cut through part of Tibbits’ vertebrate, colon, and intestines before stopping just a fraction of an inch from exiting through his belly. Prosecutors showed jurors photos of the bullet which was left a mangled piece of metal after tearing through the victim.
Tibbits spent the next 10 days in intensive care fighting for his life and undergoing eleven surgeries over the next handful of months. Kisor credited Wilson, Moore, sheriff’s deputy Max Socks, Bright Fire & EMS, aircare EMTs, and the doctors at University of Cincinnati Hospital for saving Tibbits’ life.
Gajdik’s defense also contested was whether Gajdik intended to rob Jacobs. Sorge said his client entered the home knowing nobody was inside and fled when first confronted by Jacobs.
“If an escaped prisoner from Nebraska comes all the way to Dearborn County to break into a home, take a gun, and then points it at a person, I would call that intent,” Negangard told the jury.
Evidence identifying Gajdik as the suspect and placing him at each scene was overwhelming. Police had his DNA and fingerprints at each scene, on the handgun, and in the two stolen cars. There were receipts from the night before showing Gajdik had checked in at the Riverside Inn in Lawrenceburg.
When Gajdik was captured at a Fergus Falls, Minnesota motel, police found Jacobs’ stolen Glock in the glove compartment of a third stolen car. Tibbits’ Thunderbird was recovered in Bettendorf, Iowa, where Gajdik had taken the third vehicle under the guise of a test drive from a dealership there.
“Robert Tibbits will never be the same. The man who did that to him needs to be held accountable,” Negangard said.