Nine years shaved off prison terms in Kaluza shooting

Nine years shaved off prison terms in Kaluza shooting


The 7th District Court of Appeals has shaved nine years off the 50-year prison terms given to Taran Helms and Hattie Gilbert in the 2008 shooting that paralyzed Joseph Kaluza, a former fast-foot store manager, from the neck down after a staged car crash on South Avenue.

The court reduced the total prison terms for each defendant to 41 years by ordering that the four three-year firearm specifications merge into a single three-year gun specification to be served consecutively to all the other sentences.

The two worked together to rob Kaluza on Marach 24, 2008. Kaluza, who managed a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant was headed to a bank to make a deposit.

“It’s kind of hard to comprehend because it makes people unafraid to commit crimes because they know they’ll get a light sentence,” Kaluza said Wednesday of the reduction.

“I basically have a life sentence; my sentence cannot be reduced; and they get an easier sentence than I do. I don’t think that’s very fair,” Kaluza said. “Every time you turn around, people win appeals for a lighter sentence.”

Kaluza’s sister, Anna Fitzgerald, concurred, adding, “I think the decision is wrong because Joe’s punishment does not stop. He’s in and out of the hospital, and his life doesn’t get better. I feel it’s unjust and it’s not fair.”

After a jury convicted Helms of attempted murder, felonious assault, aggravated robbery and kidnapping and Gilbert of complicity to all those crimes, then-Judge Timothy E. Franken gave both defendants maximum consecutive prison sentences for each offense.

In its decision last week, the appellate court did not order merger of any of the other sentences, and it did not find that there were any other errors in the trial.

The appellate court ordered Franken’s successor, Judge Lou A. D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, to resentence Helms and Gilbert according to its instructions.

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