ELYRIA — Bruce Arnoff and John Sullivan were sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to charges in connection with the murder-for-hire plot that led to the killing of Willie Fisher in July.
Arnoff, 59, of Solon, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for at least 33 years after pleading guilty to counts of complicity to aggravated murder, complicity to murder, complicity to felonious assault and tampering with evidence Monday morning before Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi.
Police have said Arnoff paid Sullivan, 30, and Patrick Gall, 19, both of East Cleveland, $500 total to kill Fisher, whose body was found behind a shopping plaza on East Avenue on July 6.
Sullivan was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for at least 39 years after pleading guilty to counts of aggravated murder, murder, felonious assault, tampering with evidence and having weapons while under disability by Miraldi on Monday.
Gall was found guilty by a jury last month after a weeklong trial on charges of aggravated murder, murder, felonious assault and tampering with evidence. Miraldi sentenced Gall to life in prison without the possibility of parole for at least 28 years.
Prior to sentencing Arnoff, Miraldi spoke of Gall’s trial and the evidence he saw linking Arnoff to the slaying of Fisher.
“In this case, I watched, and I watched, and I watched, and I thought, you could stop it,” Miraldi said. “You could have stopped it here, you could have stopped it there; you had a lot of opportunities to stop it, but you were intent on getting this done. We got to watch that, as well.”
Prosecutors said the three men planned Fisher’s death for more than a week by trading text messages and phone calls.
Assistant County Prosecutor Laura Dezort said Arnoff had considered Fisher to be a friend.
“He might even be worse than the one that pulled the trigger,” Dezort said. “He’s the one who set up the murder of the person he claimed as a friend.”
Arnoff was given an opportunity to speak prior to his sentencing. Throughout his statement, Arnoff had to stop to compose himself, his voice cracking as he sobbed.
“I’m here because I made bad choices and cost a friend his life,” Arnoff said. “Although not intended, I admit my responsibility. If it was me that had died that day, many people I had helped in life would have come to bless me. I feel so guilty for the choices I made. I always tried to help people and teach people a lesson, and this was the wrong lesson.”
Arnoff also said he always tried to teach people that hard work and focus could help them accomplish almost anything. He also told the court that he “often said that it is better to give than to receive.”
Fisher’s son, Eric Kilgore, wasn’t buying it.
“All that crying. You didn’t cry when you put a hit out,” Kilgore said. “For somebody that called himself a friend, you provided him with drugs to keep him around. If you were a real friend, if you were really the type of person that believed it’s better to give than to receive, you should have given him help, given him a hand instead of dope in your hand.”
Arnoff also encouraged Fisher’s family to use a Social Security check he’d help Fisher acquire for $34,000. Again, Kilgore wasn’t interested.
“Thirty-four thousand dollars is not bringing my father back. I will burn every penny of that before I spend anything,” Kilgore said. “You can take that for yourself and burn it. I won’t spend a penny of it. My father ain’t coming back.”
Kilgore said his father wasn’t a bad person, “he just made bad decisions” and suffered from the “demon” of drug abuse. Kilgore also said that demon had cost Fisher the support of many family members who didn’t show up for any of the court proceedings.
“I was my father’s only friend. Look who has been here for every court date,” he said. “I was my father’s friend. I was my father’s son. I was my father’s shadow.”
Sullivan asked Miraldi for some glimmer of hope, even though he believed he didn’t deserve it.
“I’d like to apologize to the family for any kind of loss of loved ones I gave them,” Sullivan said. “I know I do not deserve any leniency. I do ask that at the end I have some light and maybe have the chance to be part of society again.”
During Gall’s trial, prosecutors showed surveillance video of Sullivan allegedly shooting Fisher multiple times.
“This man shot him twice and then came and stood over him and put a bullet in his head just to make sure that he was dead,” Dezort said. “This is undoubtedly the worst form of this offense, and the state is going to ask for life without parole.”
Miraldi also addressed Sullivan prior to issuing the sentence.
“That video is stuck in my mind,” Miraldi said. “Not just the planning, but after you shot Mr. Fisher, you ran out of the bushes, walked up to him and you were staring right at him — as close as your attorney is to you right now — and you put, I think, at least two more shots into his head. It’s hard to get that out of my mind, and I think as a sentencing judge, I’m not supposed to get that out of my mind.”
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