The civil trial in Kosciusko Circuit Court began Tuesday by seating a six-person jury and hearing opening arguments from both sides of litigants.
Atta and Larry Helman, Cromwell, sued Barnett’s Bail Bonds Inc.; Tadd S. Martin, Daniel S. Foster and Michael C. Thomas, who were bounty hunters for Barnett’s; Lexington National Insurance Corporation, the surety bond company; The Papers Inc., c/o Ron Baumgartner; and Stacey Staley, who was an employee of The Papers Inc., in June of 2016 after a shootout at the Helmans’ home resulted in the death of Gary Helman.
Staley and The Papers Inc. were dismissed as defendants in the suit in December 2016 by Kosciusko Circuit Court Judge Mike Reed, who ordered that there was no relief that could be granted by the two defendants.
According to court documents in the case, Gary Helman had warrants out for his arrest after using Barnett’s Bail Bonds to bond out of jail and then failing to appear for court dates.
Barnett’s are accused of contracting Martin as a recovery agent to apprehend Helman. Martin then brought Foster and Thomas on to help him. Staley’s involvement in the case came when Martin and Myra Barnett of Barnett’s Bail Bonds contacted Staley and allegedly hatched a plan for Staley to set up a fake interview at the Helman’s Cromwell home to confirm to the bounty hunters that Gary Helman was inside. She did that, according to court records, and immediately after Staley left the residence a shootout ensued that killed Gary Helman, seriously injured Larry Helman and injured Martin.
Atta Helman is the mother of Gary and Larry Helman. Gary and Larry Helman are twin brothers, who all three resided at the 9174 Doswell Blvd., Cromwell, address where the incident happened.
In court Tuesday, 43 of the 80 jurors called for jury duty showed up and six of them – four women and two men – were seated before noon. Two male alternates also were seated.
The Helmans are represented by Bradley Colborn and Michael Misch, of Anderson Agostino & Keller, South Bend.
Barnett’s Bail Bonds Inc., is represented by local attorney Jay Rigdon. Lexington National Insurance Corporation is represented by Angela Hall and Jason Rauch, of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Indianapolis; and Martin and Foster are representing themselves.
The attorneys listed possible witnesses that will be called during the four-day trial, including former Kosciusko County Sheriff Rocky Goshert on behalf of the Helmans, and Staley and KCSO Chief Deputy Shane Bucher were listed as witnesses for Lexington.
The trial will operate in two phases. Phase I will be for the jury to determine if any of the defendants are liable for the actions and harm that occurred on Aug. 25, 2014, at the Helmans’ home. If the jury finds any or all of the defendants liable for any of the alleged actions that include negligence, battery, trespassing, residential entry and intimidation, then Phase II will begin. Phase II will be where jurors will then decide the amount of damages that should be awarded to the Helmans.
In opening statements Tuesday, Colborn said, “Bails bondsmen and their agents have no legal power to arrest, hurt or harm other people other than the fugitive. If they injure others, then the bail bondsmen are responsible for that harm.”
Colborn said after Staley left the home that day, three men armed with handguns, knives, tasers, bulletproof vests, mase, zip ties and hatchets stormed the house.
“Immediately after, these bounty hunters decided they were going to go in and fulfill their contract and recover the fugitive, dead or alive, that would give them $2,500,” Colborn said, adding that one of the bounty hunters knocked on the front door so the others could storm in through the back door. However, Larry was on the back porch preparing to light a cigarette and that is when Colborn alleges the hunters grabbed Atta and pushed her outside and held her at gunpoint and shot Larry, splitting his colon and taking off the top of his hip bone.
“This all happens while an 80-year-old woman watches her twin sons get gunned down by people she doesn’t even know,” Colborn said. “The minute he died, the bounty hunters earned their $2,500, and the Barnett’s and the insurance company was off the hook for a $25,000 bail. Neither Atta or Larry are fugitives.”
Colborn said the trial is not about what happened to Gary. It is about the mistreatment and harm caused to two non-fugitives during the apprehension of Gary.
“If you skip on your bond, they can come kick your door in in the middle of the night if they want, but they can’t do that to third parties,” Colborn said. “People can’t just go around knocking down doors and shooting people. It doesn’t work that way. They all had a plan, and they all worked together. They should all be held responsible in the same fashion.”
Rigdon’s opening statements focused on the fact that Gary’s address was the Cromwell address and was listed on his bond paperwork filled out by himself and Atta.
“Atta guaranteed the bond,” Rigdon said. “You agree to show up and you agree the bond company can come get you if you don’t.”
Rigdon accused Colborn of not telling the full story of how the skipped court date led to the fatal day.
“Myra called both Gary and Atta (after Gary failed to appear in court), and no one would call her back. No one showed up to court,” Rigdon said. “So Myra writes to Atta, warning there is a forfeiture of your assets if Gary doesn’t show up. Atta writes Myra back and says the Barnetts assaulted her, even though the Barnetts never saw her, and tell them the Barnetts owe her $5,000. Basically, she tells them kiss of. Go pound sand. So Barnetts call Tadd Martin.”
Rigdon said Barnett’s Bail Bonds have used Martin as a recovery agent for them before and have had no problems with his work.
“Barnett’s did everything they were allowed to do by the law,” Rigdon said.
Rauch presented opening statements to the jurors on behalf of Lexington and said, “Gary Helman wasn’t going to let anyone take him back to jail alive,” and accused Atta and Larry of helping Gary evade police seizure and placing the blame of that day on Gary.
“Even after his death, they blamed everyone else, but not Gary Helman,” Rauch said. “Lexington National Insurance Corporation had nothing to do with issuing Gary Helman’s bonds, engaging the recovery agents or executing the warrant service. Gary shot Tadd Martin five times, and Martin returned fire and killed him.”
Rauch said Martin and Foster have worked more than 100 recoveries together and not one has been violent.
Rauch even showed jurors a photo from inside the Helman home with an LP propane tank positioned next to the kitchen oven, where, according to Rauch, Atta said, “I had a gun, and I said come on in. I got a gas tank right there, and I’m gonna blow you out.”
Rauch said Gary shot Martin twice on the back porch before Martin ever pulled a gun and that while Martin was injured and bleeding on the floor of the porch, Larry continued to approach Martin and so Martin shot Larry twice.
“Then Gary shows and holds a gun at Martin, then they exchange gunfire and Martin got hit three more times and Gary got killed,” Rauch said of how it all went down.
Rauch said Lexington engages with bond companies all over the country but that they do not authorize or require bondsmen to engage recovery agents.
“Plain and simple, Lexington had nothing to do with this case,” Rauch said.
The trial begins at 8:30 a.m. today, with the plaintiffs calling their first witness.