CROWN POINT — A 67-year-old man's daughter told him Wednesday she hoped he would get the helps he needs in prison before a judge sentenced him to 55 years for murdering his son.
Jerome Wilderness Sr. was convicted of murder Nov. 7 and subsequently admitted to a firearm enhancement in the shooting death of his son, 39-year-old Jerome Wilderness Jr., on Feb. 17, 2018, at their home in the 1200 block of West 97th Place in Crown Point.
The minimum sentence he could have faced was 50 years, including 45 for murder and five for the firearm enhancement.
Wilderness's wife, Patricia Wilderness, told her husband the family forgave him "over and over again" before their son's homicide.
"I don't hate you," she said. "I'm just tired."
Wilderness's daughter, Marisa Wilderness, told her father she loved him and forgave him.
"Junior wanted to be just like you," she said. "Hopefully now, you'll be able to get the help you need."
Wilderness gave a long, sometimes rambling statement as he recalled time spent with his sons and repeatedly discussed the financial support he provided to his family.
"I love my son with all my heart, and I have no doubt he loves me the same way," he said.
Wilderness talked about intervening with supervisors at U.S. Steel to get his son a job and confronting his son's boss over a disagreement between the younger Wilderness and the boss.
He said his family knew he always carried a gun, but he offered no apologies for killing Jerome Wilderness Jr.
Defense attorney James Thiros said the elder Wilderness has some health issues and no criminal history other than a minor carrying a firearm without a permit case.
"Here is a guy who, by all accounts, did things the right way," Thiros said. "Yet, he stands before you convicted of the most serious offense we have on our books in the state of Indiana."
He asked for a 50-year term, including 45 years for murder and five on the firearm enhancement.
Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Tara Villarreal said evidence showed the elder Wilderness pulled a gun and threatened family members about a month before he killed his son.
Jerome Wilderness Jr. had been going through some troubles, because he was separated from his wife, and had been living with his father.
"He had his whole life ahead of him," Villarreal said. "He wanted the chance to make it right with his wife, to get his family back together."
The elder Wilderness shot his son in front of his son's then-1-year-old twins. Police found blood on both of their clothing and removed a glass shard from one of the babies, she said.
Villarreal asked for a sentence of 65 years, including a 55-year term for murder and 10 years for the firearm enhancement.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez said it was clear that Wilderness and his wife had instilled proper values in their children.
"I just can't believe you're here," Vasquez said. "But you belong here because you killed someone. You killed your own son. You killed your own son."
There is nothing wrong with legally carrying a gun, he said.
"But when we decide to carry a gun," he said. "We take on a great responsibility."
Vasquez sentenced Wilderness to 55 years, including 50 for murder and five on the firearm enhancement.
Wilderness's aunt, Farris Avery, of Kansas City, Missouri, said she and Wilderness were close in age and grew up more like sister and brother.
As a teenager, Wilderness stayed home to care for younger siblings while his parents went out of state to work farm jobs for months, she said.
He went to college, raised his own family and gave each of his children a better start in life than he had, she said.
"This has affected our entire family," Avery said. "This has caused more division than it should have."