Drug Induced Homicide Trial: Dealer, days away from delivering child, found guilty of delivering a fatal dose

Just after 8 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2015 a 20-year-old woman was found blue, unresponsive and slumped over the edge of a bed in the basement of a Marengo home where she lived with her boyfriend and his mother.

“I tried to pull her up, I started screaming,” said Laurie Cool tearfully describing finding her son Brandon Smedley’s girlfriend, who overdosed after shooting a syringe full of heroin into her jugular vein.

Cool gave her emotional testimony Thursday during the drug-induced homicide trial of Durelle Hall who sat stoically.

Hall, who still faces additional drug-related charges she racked up while out on pre-trial bond, was found guilty Thursday after little more than an hour of jury deliberation. And as she has been throughout the lengthy trial, Hall showed no emotion as the verdict was read, but her parents wept behind her.

She faces up to 30 years in prison in Kumm’s death when sentenced in September.
During opening arguments this week in McHenry County, Ill., prosecutors said Hall, 26, sold Chelsie Kumm a lethal dose of heroin.

However, Hall’s defense attorneys said the state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hall sold Kumm the lethal dose.

Assistant State’s Attorney Randi Freese said Hall, who is days away from delivering a baby, has chosen to make a living as a drug dealer, “selling … poison” and feeding the addiction of addicts.

“You are going to hear about Chelsie Kumm … who had her entire life ahead of her when (Hall) gave her a fatal dose of heroin.” Freese said

Kumm woke up that morning “heroin sick,” Freese said.

Her boyfriend, Smedley boarded a train in Crystal Lake headed to Chicago to buy heroin, but Kumm stayed behind because she said she could get the heroin locally. Smedley never saw her alive again.

Freese said Kumm called a friend to pick her up and she went back to his apartment in Crystal Lake where he gave her $50. Freese said Kumm told the friend the money was so she could buy her “medicine.” The friend gave her the money and 20 minutes later he saw Kumm go outside and make a quick exchange with someone who showed up in a gray vehicle, Freese said.

Kumm then told her friend she had to go home and “prepare” her medicine. The friend told police when he drove her home she went into the basement and never came back upstairs. When he called out to her and she didn’t respond, he left.

Police collected various colored baggies, needles and cooking instruments in the bedroom where Kumm was found. Among the paraphernalia were pink baggies later tested and proved positive for heroin and fentanyl.

Freese said the pink baggies are Hall’s signature drug dealing baggies. Prosecutors showed jurors text messages showing Kumm and Hall set up the drug deal that day. Other texts show Kumm telling Smedley she got heroin from Hall.

“It is very clear who sold (Kumm) the heroin … that killed her,” Freese said.

But defense attorney Vanessa Sheehan told jurors that though the whole story is “very sad” and Kumm and her family have been “ravished” by drugs and addiction -as has Hall’s own family- the state cannot prove it was Hall who sold the fatal dose of heroin to Kumm.

Even if they could prove she sold her heroin that night they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Hall’s drugs that killed her. During the trial jurors saw police photos showing various baggies in the room where Kumm was found, implying the couple bought heroin from other drug dealers.

Sheehan said Kumm’s addiction began at age 15 and when one is addicted “you live solely to feed that addiction.”

She added Kumm and Hall were friends who ran in the same social circles and that Kumm “was living solely to find her next fix. … She connected with a lot of people that day.”

Sheehan said Kumm was asking “everyone she knew to hook her up.”

Authorities found “a cocktail of substances … in Chelsie’s blood,” Sheehan said.

Noting additional drugs in her system, unaccounted periods of time and missing evidence Sheehan said the state “cannot prove who killed her. … There is nothing good coming out of this case.”

Smedley, 33, said he has battled a heroin addiction for 17 years and has been in recovery the past year. He testified that he and Kumm ingested heroin intravenously, several times daily throughout their relationship. They had made a pact in 2014 that they would work together daily to find heroin to use together. He said they could do between three and seven bags of heroin a day.

He said that morning they “ransacked” his mother’s home hoping to find heroin to help Kumm feel better. Later, he got a ride into Crystal Lake where he sold his mother’s Percocet and made $60, but when he could not score enough heroin for him and Kumm locally, he boarded a train to Chicago.

About 40 minutes into the trip he got a text from Kumm saying she had gotten $50 and was waiting to meet with Hall to bring her heroin. Smedley also said he and Kumm often bought heroin from Hall, including once while her young son was present in her car near his school.

He said Hall sold her heroin in pink or purple baggies, then identified the pink baggies in the room where Kumm overdosed in police photos.

When his mother called to tell him his girlfriend overdosed and to come home, Smedley was at Chicago Avenue and Cicero Avenue on Chicago’s westside.  Though he was not charged in her death he said he did not want to return home that night.

“I didn’t want to come home. I didn’t want to live anymore,” Smedley said adding he planned to ingest the heroin he scored and commit suicide. “I didn’t want to go to jail, be drug sick … I lost my lover.”

In closing arguments, Thursday Freese said Kumm had five times the lethal dose of heroin in her system.

She also noted Hall had overdosed herself in 2009 and claims to have last sold heroin around that time.

Freese referred to a police interview, which jurors saw this week, where Hall was crying saying she does not sell heroin and talking about her own overdose and her sister’s drug addiction. But, Freese said, she has no problem selling it “to someone else daughter or sister.”

“Someone who knows the power of that drug and sells it to others is just awful,” Freese said.

About a month after Kumm died police searched Hall’s apartment where they found no heroin but did find crack cocaine and five cell phones that prosecutors said were used for her drug business.

In closings, Sheehan said the state did not prove who had been texting with Kumm that day from phones that belonged to Hall. She sought to cast doubt on witnesses who are known felons and drug addicts including Smedley, who during his second day of testimony appeared to be nodding off just after receiving a methadone treatment.

She also cast doubt on whether Smedley went into the city that day and highlighted the fact that not all drug related items found in the home were tested including two syringes, one found in the basement near where Kumm overdosed that appeared to have water in it.

“That’s reasonable doubt,” Sheehan said.

Hall’s dad Michael, of Lake in the Hills, Ill., said he is “disappointed” with the verdict and doesn’t feel the state had the evidence to convict his daughter. He also expressed sadness for Kumm’s death and her family.

“We are devastated and so worried about the children,” he said of his 6-year-old grandson and Hall’s unborn baby.

Michael Hall, whose younger daughter also is a heroin addict currently in recovery, added that the heroin epidemic needs more attention and the county needs to do more for the addicts.

As she walked out of the courtroom, Kumm’s mom, Kristine Hensley of McHenry, Ill., said she was “very pleased” with the verdict though the ordeal has been “very stressful.”

While she said she is not a vindictive person, she hopes Hall gets a strict sentence though she knows “it’s not gonna bring her back … I just wanted justice.”

Woman who admitted to driving while high on heroin when she struck a motorcycle and killed a beloved mom and nurse sentenced to 16 years in prison

After apologizing to a packed courtroom of friends and family members of a woman she killed while driving under the influence of heroin last year, a 46-year-old woman was sentenced this week to 16 years in prison.

Sheree Ann Shaw of Twin Lakes, Wis., pleaded guilty in April to two counts of aggravated driving under the influence.

She admitted to driving a Ford Taurus, without a valid driver’s license, and crossing over the center lines along Richmond Road in McHenry, Ill., on the seemingly perfect dry and sunny afternoon of May 6, 2016.

Shaw struck a Harley-Davidson Rode Glide motorcycle driven by Michael Thornton who was traveling with a passenger, Amy Thornton, 42, his wife of nearly 20 years.

Michael Thornton, 40, has undergone several surgeries and painful rehabilitation since the crash. His wife, a well-known nurse at Centegra Hospital in Woodstock, never resumed consciousness. She died from her injuries nine days later in the hospital.

During the hourlong sentencing hearing, where Shaw and others often wept quietly, Michael Thornton broke down into tears detailing the “devastating” loss of his wife, multiple surgeries his painful emotional and physical rehabilitation and months of lost work.

He also said there has been a deep divide among once close family and friends and he has had to to rely on his son’s to help him with such basic tasks as showering. He said he has “screws in place to hold my left side together” and has “no use of his left foot.”

Michael Thornton said the day started out for the the two of them taking advantage of overdue vacation time from their jobs. They rode the motorcycle and had lunch in Lake Geneva, Wis., where they discussed their older son’s college plans. The Woodstock couple, who once enjoyed riding the motorcycle together, were on their way to his parents’ house in McHenry when they were struck.

He described the moments before the crash saying “I can’t stop hearing her voice saying ‘Mike’ … squeezing me (while I was) trying to avoid the collision.”

He then recalls lying on the pavement, seeing red knowing it was his own blood, and calling out for his wife who did not respond. Shaw broke down as he described these devastating moments.

The next time he would see her would be three days later “unresponsive to my voice” in an intensive care unit on a ventilator. She was braindead, he said.
He described his wife as his “best friend … (someone) who thought of others before herself.”

Michael Thornton said this was no accident as some have said. He said it “could have been avoided” but Shaw had “zero respect for the law that day” when she chose to drive a vehicle under the influence of heroin. Had she not done that “I would not have lost Amy.”

Michael Thornton read letters from his two sons who also sat in the courtroom.

His son Zachary Thornton said “I wish we could return to the way we once were.”
He said his mother “was the cohesiveness of our family. (Our family) was centered around our mom. We have to live without our mother for the rest of our lives.”

Younger son Michael Thornton wrote that his mom “was the nicest person … and (Shaw) took her away.”

Other family members spoke of her humor and selflessness. Her mother Susan Sweet said her daughter would have been one who would have helped Shaw with her addiction.

“The defendant will never know what she has taken from us,” Sweet said. “I hold her memory close to my heart because that is all I have.”

Shaw’s daughter Alexandria Burdette of Las Vegas said her mom is a “wonderful … person who has fallen to … drug addiction.”

She said her mother, also a nurse, had a difficult childhood with her own parents and a hard life. She suffered bipolar and depression and they often lived paycheck to paycheck, but her mother was always there for her and her two younger siblings and a “great mom” who showered them with “unconditional love.”

“She is my mentor, confidant, strength … dearest friend,” Burdette said.

But, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs described Shaw as a “selfish drug addict” and said the crime was “outrageous” and asked for the maximum prison sentence of 26 years.

“It was her choice to drive,” Combs said. “It was her choice to destroy that family.”

Assistant Public Defender Angelo Mourelatos said Shaw is remorseful for what she has done and by choosing to plead guilty and not drag the family through a trial shows she has “taken accountability.”

He said her drug addiction began with prescription drugs prescribed for health issues He said she began with amphetamines and cocaine in 2014 which lead to heroin and her addiction spiraled. In asking for leniency he said she has been in treatment since being in jail. He said she had a difficult childhood and was emotionally abused and is a caring person with “very limited” criminal history and unlike.y to commit another criminal act.

Shaw stood and said “I was not in my right mind at the time of the accident.”
She said she has had sleepless nights and will continue to “carry the burden of knowing” she killed Amy Thornton.

Shaw asked the judge for leniency and apologized to the nearly 30 family and friends in the courtroom who were wearing T-shirts with Amy Thornton’s picture on the front and angel wings on the back.

“Please give me a chance to right my wrong … I am not a bad person. I’m begging you to forgive me even though I cannot give back what you have lost.”

In handing down the sentence Judge Sharon Prather said she believed Shaw was remorseful. She noted Shaw’s long history of drug addiction and said “it’s a shame that it got to this point.”

She gave condolences to the family and acknowledged that no sentence will bring back Amy Thornton.

“This is a horrendous crime,” Prather said. “This is a serious crime.”

She is required to serve 85 percent of her sentence and will receive credit for time served in jail since last year.

The Other Side is open – patrons finding hope -and a little fun- while seeking sobriety

Hi friends:

The Other Side, the long-awaited sober nightclub in Crystal Lake (made famous recently by Jimmy Kimmel) is now open and so far so good!

Please stop by Bittersweet over at ChicagoNow read a little story I wrote for the Chicago Tribune after attending the opening night!

http://www.chicagonow.com/bittersweet/2013/05/the-other-side-crystal-lake-nightclub-opening-night-a-success-minus-obnoxious-drunks-and-drama/

Finally some good news to share relating to young adults and drug addiction.  This story and these young people are proof that people can change. It also reminds us all that humans are strong and that there are surprises yet to be discovered in all of us!

Let me know you stopped by! I enjoy your comments and input.

Until next time, love each other!