Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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May 23, 2013

Sentence dealt for reckless homicide

GOSHEN — From the witness stand in Elkhart Circuit Court, Kristina Wolfinger could see the man who killed her brother. She described what she didn’t see.

“I don’t see a friend sitting there,” Wolfinger said Thursday morning. “I don’t see remorse coming off the man sitting there.”

The man was Larry Hewitt, 43, formerly of York Hills Drive in Middlebury. He’d previously pleaded guilty to a Class C felony count of reckless homicide. On Thursday, Judge Terry Shewmaker sentenced Hewitt to six and a half years in the Department of Correction. He also ordered Hewitt to pay restitution to the deceased’s family for funeral expenses.

Hewitt admitted to killing his friend, Charles Wolfinger, last summer in Elkhart. Hewitt said he had been drinking with Wolfinger when the two began fighting in the river behind Martin’s Supermarket along Jackson Boulevard.

According to court documents, Hewitt told police that Wolfinger became unresponsive during the fight. Hewitt panicked and ran, believing Wolfinger to be dead.

Hewitt subsequently notified police and led investigators to the scene of the fight. According to a probable cause affidavit, Wolfinger’s body was later found partially submersed several yards away in the river.

Following an autopsy Wolfinger’s death was determined to be a homicide, the result of multiple blunt-force injuries, possible drowning and acute intoxication. Wolfinger had suffered significant injuries to his head and torso, including multiple broken ribs and injuries to his internal organs, the affidavit reads.

Kristina Wolfinger acknowledged that her brother had a problem with alcoholism. She also said he would always make everyone laugh.

“He had his problems, but he still had a big heart,” she said.

James Wolfinger, Charles’ brother, also addressed Hewitt in court.

“As a Christian, I forgive you for what you did,” Wolfinger said. Still, he called Hewitt a lowlife. Wolfinger said his brother wasn’t in good health, and wasn’t a threat to anybody.

“I don’t believe you meant to kill my brother,” he told Hewitt, but added that Hewitt didn’t have self-control. Wolfinger told the defendant he hopes he finds God and gets rehabilitated.

Given an opportunity to speak, Hewitt said he was sorry. He said Charles Wolfinger was his friend.

“I have an alcohol problem,” he said. “I shouldn’t have been drinking that day.”

100-year sentence

In other proceedings, Jose G. Alejandro, 21, of Locust Street in Elkhart, was sentenced to 100 years in prison on charges stemming from a 2012 shooting.

A jury had convicted Alejandro of attempted murder, a Class A felony. Jurors also found that a criminal gang sentence enhancement should be imposed.

Alejandro was arrested and charged following the shooting of Elkhart resident Flavio Contreras. The victim was not in court Thursday. Chief Deputy Prosecutor Vicki Becker said he was working and getting on with his life.

Prior to the attack, Alejandro sought out Contreras while he was looking for someone else. Alejandro and some associates took Contreras from his home.

“(Contreras) left...to avoid being shot in the presence of his family,” Judge Shewmaker commented during the sentencing.

Contreras was later shot multiple times and left to die along C.R. 19. Alejandro handed the weapon to the shooter, Shewmaker said, and ordered the shooting to occur.

“You set this plan in motion” and had the chance to call it off at any time, the judge said to Alejandro. This the defendant did not do.

A Facebook posting Alejandro perceived as disrespectful started the chain of events, according to Shewmaker.

“Mere words in social media gave rise to the tragedy that is this case,” he said.

Alejandro started using marijuana at age 9, according to statements in court. Becker said he was kicked out of school in the fifth grade for bringing a BB gun to school, and became a member of the Latin Kings gang at age 20.

Defense attorney Cliff Williams indicated that during the trial, the jurors probably learned more about gang activity than they wanted to know. Becker followed up on that remark later.

“Most of us in our lives, we don’t see what happens on our streets in the middle of the night” because of people like Alejandro, she said. It happens in the shadows, Becker said — until something major occurs that can’t be fixed.

Williams said his client plans to appeal. Shewmaker said Alejandro faces deportation after his sentence is complete.

In other proceedings:

• Leeshawn N. Rodgers, 19, Concord Avenue, Elkhart, had his initial hearing on a charge of murder. Authorities allege he killed Eddie Johnson in Elkhart last month.

Police officers wheeled Rodgers into court in a restraint chair. Two officers flanked him during the hearing.

Rodgers said he has the funds to hire his own attorney. In later comments to the judge, he was heard to say, “bull----.” “I would suggest you watch your language,” Shewmaker said before concluding the hearing.

Rodgers is incarcerated without bond.

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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