COLUMBIA CITY — Bruce Wilson, 44, was sentenced to a total of 22 years in the Indiana Department of Corrections during a sentencing hearing on Monday, Nov. 26, after recently being found guilty of burglary and theft.
According to a written statement from Ron Ort read by Whitley County Prosecutor D.J. Sigler during the sentencing hearing, Ort and his wife Linda returned home on the evening of Dec. 28, 2016, to find their house had been invaded and “robbed.” In addition to guns and money, the Orts also noticed a number of family heirlooms were missing including a ring from Linda’s mother and a necklace with ashes of a loved one.
Sigler also reminded that court that Wilson’s DNA was the only DNA found at the scene.
“This is more than just a burglary,” Sigler said. “It’s not just about repaying the money or restitution. This is about memories and livelihoods and things held dear. What this was is a home invasion, pure and simple.”
Linda Ort chose to address the court directly during Wilson’s sentencing hearing. She talked about the family heirlooms that had been taken — things that weren’t expensive but held a great deal of sentimental value. She described how the events of that night had changed the way she looked at the world and the people around her. A simple bump in the night can send her into a panic, she shared, terrified that someone has come into her home again.
“The last two years have been the biggest trauma of my life,” Ort said. “He has destroyed my life…I’m angry. I’m bitter. I hate everybody and I trust nobody. This man took everything that I owned, every precious thing in my life.”
Wilson’s attorney Anthony Churchward advised the court that his client maintained his innocence, stating that most of the evidence presented at the trial was “circumstantial.” Deborah Penland, Wilson’s mother, echoed Churchward’s statements while on the witness stand during the sentencing hearing.
Penland called the case against her son “bogus,” and claimed she knew who the real burglar was. She named a relative of Wilson’s who she called a “lifelong thief.” She firmly believes her son was used as a “patsy,” and that sentencing him to jail would not solve the problem since she is certain the actual perpetrator has not been caught.
Penland also stated that she had found out this information on her own and had been made aware of the new developments only after giving a deposition in her son’s case.
When it was Wilson’s turn to address the court, he opted to speak directly to the Orts and apologize, telling them that although he had no part in the robbery, it was still a horrible situation for anyone to go through. He maintained that a family member, his aunt, was the actual culprit here, and expressed his disappointment that his own family would leave him hanging.
“I can’t take back something I didn’t do,” Wilson said. “I’m sorry for what (Ron and Linda) have gone through. I’m deeply sorry…I wouldn’t wish it upon nobody, but you’ve got the wrong person. The only thing I’m guilty of was getting a ride from somebody I trusted and who has left me sitting here to take the punishment for something I didn’t do.”
Judge James Heuer did not find Wilson’s defense to be credible, placing his faith in the process of a fair and just trial.
“I am satisfied that the jury got it right and that you committed these crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. If I thought otherwise, we wouldn’t be here at a sentencing hearing today,” Heuer said.
Taking into account Wilson’s past criminal history as well as the fact that the victims were in their 70s, Heuer determined that Wilson should serve 12 years with an added six based on aggravating factors for the burglary charge. On the charge of theft, Heuer sentenced him to 2.5 years, but with added time from the sentence enhancement, it was increased to 10 years. In total, Wilson will spend 22 years in the Indiana Department of Corrections and is expected to pay over $34,000 in restitution.
Churchward advised the court that Wilson intended to file an appeal and requested that new counsel be appointed for those proceedings.