Jury deliberates in trial against Youngstown man charged in overdose death

By Ed Runyan



Jurors will resume deliberations today on the guilt or innocence of James L. Patterson of Youngstown, charged with involuntary manslaughter, corrupting another with drugs and drug trafficking in the overdose death of Christina Sheesley, 17, of Girard.

The jury of six men and six women deliberated for an hour Wednesday in the Trumbull County Common Pleas courtroom of Judge Ronald Rice.

Patterson is charged with a combination of offenses that hasn’t been indicted in Trumbull or Mahoning counties in recent years: Being a drug dealer whose actions led to the death of a customer.

A similar case was tried in Trumbull County in 1998 in which an inmate at Trumbull Correctional Institute was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and corrupting another with drugs for giving a lethal dose of heroin to a fellow inmate who died. Robert Baksi, now 55, was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Patterson, 28, of Division Street, didn’t testify or present any witnesses on his behalf. His attorney, James Lanzo, spent considerable time in closing arguments talking about Tyler Stevens, the other man charged in Sheesley’s death.

Lanzo became animated while recounting testimony given by and about Stevens, 20, who pleaded guilty to most of the same offenses Patterson is charged with. Stevens reached a plea agreement calling for five years in prison in exchange for his testimony.

Patterson could be sentenced to 30 years or more if convicted.

According to testimony, Sheesley went to the apartment Stevens shared with his father on Park Avenue in Girard on April 6, 2012, to celebrate her birthday with heroin.

Stevens made a call to Patterson, and Patterson delivered the drug while Sheesley and her best friend, Alexis Hugel, 18, watched.

After Patterson left and Hugel took a 20-minute walk, Stevens “cooked” the heroin and injected it into himself and Sheesley.

When Hugel returned about 9:30 p.m., Sheesley had fallen unconscious. She remained unconscious throughout the night and was found dead about 9 a.m. the next morning after Stevens called police.

During the night, Stevens and Hugel attempted to wake Sheesley but could not.

Lanzo told the jury that testimony demonstrated Stevens was the most responsible for Sheesley’s death, but Stevens “cares only about [himself] because he knows he’s in deep,” and blamed everyone else.

“Tyler will lie to anyone, even himself,” Lanzo said.

Lanzo tried poking holes in the testimony of Girard police, who set up a controlled drug buy and arrested Patterson in Girard on May 24, 2011, with a large amount of heroin and some cocaine in the car.

The attorney argued that the drugs in the car might have belonged to the other two people in the car. He also argued that Sheesley’s death, which involved a diagnosis of heroin overdose and pneumonia, might have resulted from Stevens throwing water on her face to wake her up.

Assistant prosecutor Chuck Morrow called Lanzo’s comments “red herrings,” saying the law allows for more than one person to be convicted in an involuntary manslaughter death, but Patterson’s role “put the ball in motion,” and only Patterson is on trial.

Baksi was a trustee at TCI in 1997, meaning he had special privileges, when he slid a needle containing heroin under the cell door of inmate Daniel Williams.

It was a strong dose, and it killed Williams, causing a coroner to rule his death homicide. The Warren-based Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals upheld Baksi’s conviction.

Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, Trumbull County coroner, said the concentration of heroin in Sheesley’s blood and urine was on the low end of the lethal range.

Lanzo said Wednesday he’s familiar with Mahoning County Common Pleas Court and doesn’t believe a defendant has been indicted there in many years on charges that drug-dealing led to an involuntary manslaughter.

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