Trial begins in overdose death

WARREN – Jurors seated Monday in a manslaughter trial will have to hear testimony from two friends of a Girard teen who died last year of a heroin overdose before determining the role of a Youngstown man charged with the female’s death.

Assistant county prosecutor Charles Morrow told a jury that James Patterson, known on the streets as ”Fresh,” caused the April 7, 2012, death of Christine M. Sheesley, who was celebrating her 17th birthday the night she decided to try heroin.

Patterson faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of corrupting another with drugs, three counts of trafficking heroin, two of them with forfeiture proceedings, possession of cocaine with a forfeiture proceeding, and tampering with evidence.

A jury of six men and six women was selected Monday to hear the case in the courtroom of Common Pleas Judge Ronald Rice.

Morrow said Patterson, 28, was at the Girard apartment of Tyler Scott Stevens, 20, when Sheesley gave $50 to Stevens, who bought the heroin from Patterson. Stevens then ”cooked” the heroin and both he and Sheesley injected it.

Sheesley didn’t wake up the next morning, according to an emergency 911 recording that was played in court.

”I’m freaking out here. She’s breathing but she won’t wake up,” Stevens could be heard telling a dispatcher on the recording.

Girard police Capt. John Norman, the lead investigator in the case, was working that morning and arrived to find Sheesley unresponsive and apparently dead. He took pictures of the scene before alerting a school resource officer since the situation appeared to involve high school students, including Sheesley, a junior at Girard High, and her friend, Alexis Huegel, another student who left Stevens’ apartment when she heard that they intended to purchase heroin.

Under cross examination, Patterson’s attorney James Lanzo got Norman to admit that Stevens and Huegel each gave investigators at least two or three different versions of what happened that night.

”Didn’t Tyler have his father hide the syringe?” Lanzo asked.

Norman said yes and agreed that Huegel tried to hide whatever involvement she might have had in the get-together at Steven’s apartment.

Sheesley’s mother Judy Sheesley was moved to tears giving an account about how she, relatives and Huegel took Sheesley out to the Olive Garden Restaurant earlier in the night and presents were exchanged, including at least $60 in cash.

Trumbull County Coroner Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk explained to the jury how he ruled the death an accidental drug overdose, and Steve Perch a toxicologist with the Summit County Coroner’s Office, explained his findings of heroin that quickly turned into morphine in Christine’s blood stream.

Lanzo’s cross examination of the coroner will begin today’s testimony.

The case also involves Patterson’s arrest May 24 at J.P.’s Car Wash on Trumbull Avenue, where police used a ”buy bust” technique of purchasing $240 worth of heroin from Patterson and then converging on his car to find 10 grams of heroin and 2.7 grams of cocaine in the car.

Rice denied a motion to separate the overdose and the drug trafficking issues in the trial.

”Patterson is a dealer and a delivery person. But he was the one who put the ball in motion, causing the death of Christine,” Morrow said.

Stevens has already pleaded guilty to similar charges and has agreed to do five years in prison and testify against Patterson. He remains in Trumbull County Jail in lieu of $250,000. Patterson’s bond is $500,000.

Patterson, could face a total of nearly 40 years if he gets a maximum penalty on all charges. He turned down a deal last week that would have amounted to about 10 years in prison.