FORT WAYNE – It took more than 14 years for Artie Rittenhouse’s family to learn who killed him.
On Friday morning in Allen Superior Court, they were finally able to look 37-year-old Bernard McClaney in the eye and speak of their loss. McClaney was then sentenced to 55 years in prison for the 1998 murder of the 19-year-old Fort Wayne man.
For his part, McClaney, already serving time in an Ohio prison for an unrelated homicide, apologized for the pain he caused their family and said he saw how much love Rittenhouse received from them.
I don’t understand why I grew up to be this monstrous person, McClaney said. I don’t know why God made me. I know I can’t bring him back. I don’t know why I did it. Wherever he is at, he’s smiling at you. He is happy.
Wiping tears from her eyes, Rittenhouse’s niece, Mikesha Jones, thanked McClaney for coming clean about the cold case, making it possible for the family to move forward in their grief.
Jones read from a book she wrote, at the age of 5, shortly after Rittenhouse’s murder. In the book, she talked about her love for her uncle – a big kid himself with a child on the way, one of which he had not even been aware at the time of his death.
Because someone took Uncle Artie from us, he gave us another gift from God, she read. He gave us a special angel.
Nine months after his murder, his daughter was born. The teenager sat in the courtroom, surrounded by family, also wiping tears from her eyes as Rittenhouse’s family spoke.
Jones said she prayed God would forgive McClaney, adding she hoped he finds some happiness all people deserve, regardless of what they have done.
Rittenhouse’s sister, Sherry Kirchner, said she hoped McClaney would be able to help someone along the way, so they would not have to go through what the Rittenhouse family has gone through.
Arthur Artie Rittenhouse III was found slumped on the couch with a bullet wound to his head inside a Hamilton Avenue home in 1998. No one came forward with information initially, and a focus on the crime by Crime Stoppers in 2000 and 2001 led to no arrests.
A new detective was assigned to the case in 2009, and he reviewed it and talked with Rittenhouse’s mother, according to court documents.
She told him she left the home in the morning and came back at 2 p.m., finding her son dead. A black bag that did not belong to her son was near him. The bag contained a car stereo amplifier, his mother told police.
The detective collected DNA from the bag and conducted more interviews while waiting for the results.
The interviews indicated the shooter went by the nickname Sabu, which led police to McClaney, serving time in an Ohio prison on separate charges of aggravated robbery and voluntary manslaughter. Witnesses who were with McClaney that day said he went into Rittenhouse’s home. They said they heard what sounded like gunshots, McClaney came out and they drove away, according to court documents.
The DNA results came back and were a match to McClaney.
McClaney first declined to be interviewed about the case by police but later relented. He said he shot Rittenhouse, having gone there to trade the stereo amplifier for marijuana, court documents said.
Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull sentenced McClaney to a total of 55 years in prison, consecutive to the 15-year prison sentence he is serving in the Ohio Department of Corrections on charges of aggravated robbery and voluntary manslaughter. His estimated release date in that case is 2016, according to Ohio records.
Before Gull passed sentence, McClaney said he does not sleep and knows no peace during the day worrying about what has made him a killer.
He said he will accept many more pleas to keep himself from ever getting out of prison and snapping.
After the hearing, Kirchner said she was glad the case was finally over.
At least now we know who did it, she said.
Sharon Rittenhouse, Artie’s mother, thanked the Fort Wayne Police Department detectives for their perseverance in the case.
I never thought this would ever have been solved in my lifetime, she said.