By Ed Runyan
James L. Patterson, 28, of Youngstown was convicted Thursday on seven charges — reckless homicide, tampering with evidence, two counts of corrupting another with drugs and three counts of heroin trafficking.
It could lead to about 20 years in prison when Judge Ronald Rice of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court sentences him at 10 a.m. Thursday.
It might also tell drug dealers their actions have consequences, said Capt. John Norman of the Girard Police Department.
“Maybe this will tell people if you’re selling dope, there’s criminal liability on you,” he said after Judge Rice read the verdicts.
Norman hoped Patterson and Tyler Stevens, 20, would be punished for their role in the overdose death of Christine Sheesley, 17, at Stevens’ Park Avenue apartment April 6, 2012, but he knew the case would be tough to prosecute.
Mahoning Valley drug dealers rarely are held criminally liable for the deaths of their customers, with only one person being convicted on that basis in the last 15 years.
But Charles Morrow, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, “was fabulous,” Norman said. “I want to thank the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s office, Chuck Morrow for believing in us.”
Patterson, who didn’t testify or offer any defense witnesses during the four-day trial, did speak to reporters as deputies led him down the courthouse hallway after the verdict.
“Tyler Stevens did everything. I wasn’t even there,” Patterson, of Division Street, said.
Stevens, Sheesley and Sheesley’s friend Alexis Hugel, then 17, were together in Stevens’ apartment when Stevens called Patterson on the phone to order $50 worth of heroin, according to testimony from Stevens and Hugel.
Patterson delivered the heroin while the three were still together, and Stevens injected the drug into himself and Sheesley after Patterson and Hugel left.
Hugel returned after taking a 20-minute walk and found Sheesley unconscious. Sheesley never regained consciousness and was found dead at 9 the next morning. Hugel was not charged.
Norman said walking into Stevens’ Park Avenue apartment building and seeing Sheesley, just turned 17 the day she overdosed, dead on the floor didn’t seem right.
“I remembered in sixth grade, a smiling young girl,” he said of Sheesley, who attended school with his son. “It’s a child. They’re still innocent at 16. They think they know it all.”
It also struck him that this case was important for Girard because it was the second time in six years that a Girard High School junior had died from a drug overdose.
Cortney L. Rushwin of Girard was 16 when she died of an overdose of drugs supplied by Timothy Wyland, 38, of Girard in 2006.
Wyland, now deceased, was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of involuntary manslaughter, corrupting another with drugs, heroin trafficking and cocaine trafficking. The supplier of the drugs to Wyland was never discussed in that case.
The jury did find Patterson innocent of involuntary manslaughter but found him guilty of a lesser charge of reckless homicide.
Involuntary manslaughter carries a possible 11-year prison sentence; reckless homicide carries a possible five-year prison term.
But the corrupting charges could each result in up to eight years in prison. The plea agreement with Stevens calls for him to get five years in prison.