FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –Tremaine Wyatt came into court, ready to argue his case, a murder case he never got to dispute.
When he was convicted of shooting to death Allen Ruffin in August, he held his head and cried.
At his sentencing Friday, he shed tears again, telling the court over and over again he didn’t do it.
“Everybody knows I’m not responsible for this,” he said at the table with his attorney before Judge Fran Gull walked in. “Y’all used me,” he told the prosecutors and lead homicide detective, Donald Lewis, while his family reacted from the gallery.
“Stop. Stop,” one woman said. “They pickin’ on him.”
“I didn’t do it. Everybody knows it before God,” Wyatt said, before breaking down and leaving the court with bailiffs.
Wyatt was convicted of shooting Ruffin in July 2020 as prosecutors said he drove his vehicle by Ruffin’s home in the 2500 block of Lillie Street. Ruffin died after being struck by bullets five times.
Despite his arguments voiced in court, Judge Fran Gull sentenced Wyatt, 28, to a total of 80 years – 60 years for murder, 15 for aggravated battery and five years for criminal recklessness.
A number of family members and friends of Ruffin came to the sentencing. When Ruffin’s sister, Ashley Collins-Lamb, went to the mic to speak on behalf of her brother, she said Wyatt “had no regard for what happened,” once again referring to Wyatt’s role in her brother’s death.
Wyatt expressed he was sorry for what the family had gone through but continued to insist he didn’t kill him, questioning Ruffin’s sister’s claims.
When Ruffin was killed on July 21, 2020, there was allegedly more than one individual in the car that drove by Ruffin’s home, but Wyatt was the one identified by Ruffin’s girlfriend.
At the end of the trial in August, before the jury was sent out to deliberate, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tom Chaille told the jury there could have been up to three people in the car. Because of that new information, the jury didn’t convict Wyatt on the gun charge, which could have added up to 20 years to Wyatt’s sentence.
But he’d already been found guilty of murder.
In court, Wyatt brought up that as well as a text he sent that prosecutors produced as evidence that appeared to confirm he was the shooter:
“If I go to jail tomorrow, love ma thug, it ain’t lifelong. Hold it down for me, seed or seeds.”
In court Friday, Wyatt told Judge Gull the text referred to a court date he had the next day that had to do with a probation violation and he expected to be incarcerated. Court documents indicate a warrant was issued on July 22, 2020, and there was a “petition to revoke” the same day.
He also said that even though his car was used, it doesn’t mean he drove it. Wyatt, who was employed before his incarceration, allowed family and friends to borrow it often.
“I was working at a plant in Kendallville. I was doing great, being a productive member of society. I’m not a gang banger. I don’t cause problems,” he wrote in a letter to WANE 15.
In the letter, he argued his innocence through various points as he did the day of his conviction and at his sentencing Friday.
“Miss News Lady,” Wyatt said Friday, in desperation as he was being led away. “I wasn’t charged as an accomplice,” but there seemed to be an understanding that the charge went from murder to accomplice to “acting in concert.”
“The verdict is kind of confusing and conflicting. The state’s case was that he shot somebody and that he worked with other people and more than one person shot,” said Wyatt’s attorney, John Cantrell right after the sentencing. “That’s what the evidence shows because there were two different caliber weapons.”
Not being sure who shot Ruffin, there was another suggestion that the shooters were acting in concert, “but then the jury found that he didn’t shoot a gun and they acquitted him of that. So it really doesn’t make sense,” Cantrell added.
Cantrell said Wyatt has two ways “to beat this.” One is a direct appeal; another is people coming forward with more information.
“How many young African Americans have been wrongfully convicted in this county? My key fob was never found, therefore I had no access to the vehicle. I often lend my vehicle out. How does that make me guilty of murdering another man?” Wyatt said in his letter.
Wyatt also claimed to have an alibi, “Detective Lewis never looked at this evidence. Never went to these places to corroborate my statements. Isn’t that what detectives are supposed to do? He could have asked the clerk who was familiar with me and knows my face. I went to that particular gas station every day.”
Wyatt said his hair and appearance were described incorrectly and that Ruffin’s girlfriend “claimed I committed murder by shooting and killing Allen Ruffin. Then under oath said she didn’t see a gun, but seen my face.”
Wyatt said he believed he was convicted “because the prosecution thought I knew information that I did not. We were unable to speak about things at the trial.”
Meanwhile, he’s spent more than three years at the Allen County Jail, “a very harsh and cruel environment… I lost my tooth, my two children have been born since I’ve been incarcerated in Allen County Jail….the true murderers are out there with the key fab and weapons. I had neither.”