Joe Kaluza opposes appeal of 50-year sentences of 2 who paralyzed him

By Peter H. Milliken


Joe Kaluza is paralyzed from the neck down, thanks to the criminal actions of Taran Helms and Hattie Gilbert.

He doesn’t believe any time should be lopped off the 50-year prison terms they received for shooting and robbing the former KFC manager.

“I can’t get my injuries reduced. Why should they get their sentence reduced?” asked Kaluza, who was paralyzed after Helms shot him.

“Everything that the prosecutors are saying they did, they did do, so why should they get the sentence reduced?” Kaluza asked.

Helms and Gilbert are appealing to have their prison time cut to 23 years.

Helms’ lawyer, Gary L. VanBrocklin, and Gilbert’s lawyer, Kristopher Haines, argued for the reductions Wednesday before the 7th District Court of Appeals, which will rule at a later date.

“I feel it’s very unfair,” Kaluza’s sister, Anna Fitzgerald of North Lima, said of the reduction proposal. “They took Joe’s life the way he knew it, and they’re asking to have time taken away from their sentence,” she said, adding that her brother’s paralysis is permanent.

“What they did was very cold-blooded. They knew exactly what they were doing,” Fitzgerald said of the defendants.

Gilbert staged the car crash that preceded Helms’ shooting and robbing Kaluza on March 24, 2008, on the city’s South Side.

“This is the worst case that I’ve ever had to deal with where someone wasn’t killed in my 36 years as a defense lawyer and a prosecutor,” conceded VanBrocklin, a former Mahoning County prosecutor.

“My client is not well-received in the community, nor is he entitled to much consideration,” Van Brocklin said. He argued, however, that the appellate judges must apply the rule of law to Helms’ sentencing.

The defense lawyers said the attempted murder and felonious assault sentences should merge, as should the aggravated robbery and kidnapping sentences, because the crimes were committed in the same incident.

“It was a continuing course of conduct,” VanBrocklin said on behalf of Helms. “His entire intent from the beginning to the end was to rob Mr. Kaluza of the money of the KFC Co. that he was taking to the bank,” Van Brocklin told the three-judge panel.

Ralph M. Rivera, an assistant county prosecutor, argued, however, that the prison terms for multiple crimes shouldn’t merge because “they were not allied offenses of similar import.”

Rivera said Helms committed attempted murder by shooting and instantly paralyzing Kaluza from the neck down, then kidnapped Kaluza by pushing his car 300 feet from South Avenue onto a side street, and then committed felonious assault by threatening to shoot him again, this time in the head, if he didn’t surrender all the money.

“You have breaks in Mr. Helms’ actions,” Rivera told the panel. “If he committed multiple offenses, and the law says that they shouldn’t merge, then they shouldn’t merge,” Rivera added.

“The kidnapping and the robbery should not be together because it’s two totally different things,” Kaluza, who did not attend the court hearing, said later by telephone.

Former Judge Timothy E. Franken of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court sentenced Helms, 26, and Gilbert, 23, both of East Judson Avenue, to maximum consecutive sentences totaling five decades in prison after a jury convicted Helms of attempted murder, felonious assault, aggravated robbery and kidnapping, with firearm specifications, and Gilbert of complicity to those crimes.

Rivera conceded the four, three-year firearm specifications should merge into a single three-year prison term, reducing the prison time from 50 to 41 years.

If Helms and Gilbert win mergers of the attempted murder with the felonious assault and of the aggravated robbery with the kidnapping, an additional 18 years would be cut from their prison time, reducing their total prison time to 23 years.

Helms is at Trumbull Correctional Institution in Leavittsburg, and Gilbert is at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.

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