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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Judge dismisses charge against Illinois man in heroin death of girlfriend

The state’s attorney here called Thursday for a change in Illinois law after Taylor Kennedy was freed from a drug-induced homicide charge. A judge said prosecutors missed a key step in failing to show the heroin that killed Kennedy’s girlfriend was delivered in Illinois. Associate Judge James Hackett agreed with defense attorney James Drazen in deciding the homicide statute requires a drug delivery that violates the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, which requires deliver within the state. Evidence against Kennedy suggested that heroin was purchased and transferred in Missouri. Hackett acquitted Kennedy and sent the jury home before the defense presented any evidence. “We knew this was a challenging and difficult case,” State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said in a statement released later. “Obviously I’m disappointed with the outcome, however this shows me that the law needs to be changed to reflect the reality of the drug trade here in the Metro East.” He continued, “I plan to reach out to our local legislators in an attempt to change the law to give us this critical tool in our fight against the drug trade.” Drazen said he was shocked by what he learned about the easy availability of heroin. “We need to go after the people who are dealing it,” he said. Kennedy, now 20, spent more than a year in jail awaiting the trial that started Wednesday. He was accused of supplying heroin involved in the Jan. 12, 2011, overdose that killed Shannon Gaddis, 17, a Triad High School senior who lived outside Troy, Ill. The defendant’s father, Joe Kennedy, brushed away tears after the ruling as he told reporters, “This was a bad situation for everybody.” Asked if he thought his son can now turn his life around, Kennedy replied, “We’re sure going to try. Our road to recovery is just now starting.” Kennedy would have faced a mandatory term of 6 to 30 years in prison, and had to serve 85 percent of it, if convicted of drug-induced homicide. Several people have been charged in Madison County in recent years with supplying drugs that caused a death but this was the first to go to trial. At least two people have gone to prison after pleading guilty; one died while awaiting trial. Gibbons’ office also released a statement Thursday on behalf of the Gaddis family, calling for the law to be changed. The family suggested heightened awareness by teachers and physicians, and urged addicts’ friends “not sit by; rather, tell parents and do everything they can to get their friend help.” Melissa Barnes, 19, testified Thursday that she and Gaddis drove Kennedy to St. Louis to obtain heroin that Jan. 11. She said he bought some in an apartment house parking lot, using his own money, having told them earlier he had $600. She said neither she nor Gaddis provided him with money. Kennedy overdosed, Barnes said, and a passer-by helped move him to the back seat before they drove in search of a hospital. They called 911 from Market and 7th streets. Andrew DeLuca, a paramedic with the St. Louis Fire Department, testified that Kennedy was down to two or three breaths per minute by then, and would have died soon without treatment. Deborah Berg-Gash, an emergency communications supervisor, told the court the city fire department responds to 10 to 15 heroin overdoses in a typical 12-hour shift. Barnes said she and Gaddis lied to Kennedy after he was revived at St. Louis University Hospital, telling him they had thrown away what was left of the heroin. Barnes said that while she did throw away some, Gaddis kept part of it. Kennedy went home with Gaddis and the two watched movies in her bedroom until he fell asleep about 10:30 p.m., Kennedy said in an interview with sheriff’s investigators that was played in court Wednesday. He said he found her unresponsive the next morning. Officials believe she had been dead about eight hours. On the recording, Kennedy said that he, Gaddis and Barnes had pooled their money to buy the heroin. In Thursday’s testimony, Barnes said Gaddis had sent her a text message about 2:30 a.m., saying she had used 1-1/2 “buttons” of heroin. Barnes noted that she had no way to know if it was from the same batch Kennedy purchased. Barnes acknowledged in court that she is a heroin addict, and said she and Gaddis had purchased heroin together on numerous occasions. Barnes, who said she lives sometimes with her mother in Caseyville, was composed on the witness but broke into tears as she stepped down. She and Gaddis had been close friends for some time, since they were next-door neighbors in the Troy area.

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