(Bright, Ind.) - After hearing victims’ statements and arguments from attorneys, Dearborn Circuit Court Judge James D. Humphrey decided Monday that Bright shooter William Gajdik will be sentenced at a later date.
Gajdik was an escaped convict from Nebraska when he burglarized two homes, stole a gun, shot one of the homeowners, and fled the area in the victim’s car in September of 2011.
“This crime has affected me physically, mentally, probably for the rest of my life,” shooting victim Robert Tibbits testified after making his way to court using a cane and wearing a brace around his back and abdomen. “I can’t even mow my own grass anymore. Grocery shopping, even the simplest things I now need help with.”
A jury convicted the 39-year-old Gajdik in August on five felony charges including Attempted Murder, Burglary, Robbery Causing Serious Bodily Injury, Robbery with a Deadly Weapon, and Auto Theft. The longtime criminal was also convicted of being a habitual offender, setting up the possibility for up to another 30 years to be added to his sentence.
At one point during the Monday morning sentencing hearing, Gajdik verbally sparred with Dearborn-Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard over whether he intended to shoot Tibbits in his Logan Township home with a handgun he had stolen from a burglary earlier in the day on September 6, 2011. Gajdik stated he was scared by Tibbits and shot at the floor. Negangard said the evidence, including the mangled bullet pulled from Tibbits' abdomen, proved otherwise.
They argued over other points of the crime spree, which included Gajdik taking cars from automotive dealerships as he fled police in several midwestern states.
“You stole cars?” Negangard asked.
“I took them on long test drives, yes,” Gajdik replied.
Gajdik’s defense lawyers, Gary Sorge and John Watson, argued that his felony convictions should be served concurrently, or all at the same time – an attempt at a shorter sentence for their client. Watson told Humphrey that all the incidents that day occurred within a six hour period, one crime leading to the next.
“You have to look at the proximity of the time and place,” Watson told the judge, adding that the habitual offender enhancement should be attached to the least-severe charge, a C felony.
However, Negangard argued that most of the charges were separate crimes, and should be sentenced consecutively for a range of 148 to 160 years in prison. The habitual offender belongs attached to the Class A felony Attempted Murder charge, Negangard stated.
As the prosecutor insisted that the gunman has shown no remorse, Gajdik did state that he was sorry during his sentencing testimony. It was the first time he spoke at length in court since he did not testify during his jury trial.
“I want to say I’m sorry, but that’s not enough. A violent person is something I’ve never been,” Gajdik said.
Sorge said that Gajdik has cooperated with the investigation since his capture at a Fergus Falls, Minnesota motel about a month later. Gajdik sought a plea deal, but prosecutors decided to take the case to trial, Sorge said.
In April, Gajdik wrote a letter to Humphrey requesting that he be given the death penalty.
“I ask the judge for the same thing I did back in April. Give me the death penalty. Everywhere I’ve ever been they tell me I’m broken,” Gajdik said.
The judge took Monday’s arguments under advisement. Pronouncement of Gajdik’s sentence – of which the death penalty is not an option – will be made September 25 at 3:00 p.m.
“Prisons were built for people like him, and that’s where he belongs,” Negangard concluded to the judge. “If there is justice for Robert Tibbits, then the rest of his life should be in prison.”
No matter Gajdik’s sentence, the ramifications of his actions will likely always be felt by Tibbits, who after eight trips to the operating room is still unsure if his physical condition will ever improve.
“My granddaughter runs to me, and I used to be able to pick her up, but not anymore,” Tibbits told the judge.