A Clark County jury decided on Tuesday that a Vancouver man should be held responsible for the August 2011 heroin overdose death of 24-year-old Adam Hurd.
The panel of eight women and four men found Jerome Otto guilty of controlled-substance homicide. Jurors also returned a special finding that Otto acted with an “egregious lack of remorse,” which gives the judge the option to impose an exceptional sentence.
Otto faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Alan Harvey.
The 23-year-old defendant showed no emotion upon hearing the verdict, which followed a six-day trial in Clark County Superior Court Judge John Wulle’s courtroom.
Otto ran a drug operation out of his Vancouver house and was known to sell to Hurd and his girlfriend, the prosecution said at trial. The evening before Hurd overdosed, Hurd’s girlfriend bought $60 worth of black tar heroin from Otto’s roommate. The roommate testified at trial that he worked as a drug courier for Otto, who had sole possession of the heroin supply.
The next evening, on Aug. 21, 2011, Hurd was found unconscious at his father’s Vancouver home, next to a bag of heroin and a needle, jurors heard at trial. He died in a hospital three days later.
Otto’s attorney, Suzan Clark, had argued that her client shouldn’t be liable for Hurd’s death because several people had their hands on the heroin before it got to him. She also suggested that the dead man could have gotten heroin from other sources.
Jurors apparently sided with Harvey, who had contended that Otto should be held responsible as an accomplice in the death because he aided and assisted in the weighing, packaging and sale of the heroin that killed Hurd.
Harvey also said Otto was aware that Hurd had overdosed twice before. The deputy prosecutor charged Otto with the aggravating factor of “lack of remorse” because Otto continued to sell heroin to users after Hurd’s death. In an interview with a Vancouver police detective, Otto had laid the blame on Hurd, saying he “played with fire” and “sometimes when you play with fire, you get burned,” jurors heard at trial.
Otto’s girlfriend, whom prosecutors said helped run the drug operation, also was charged in the overdose death; Brittany Sonnen pleaded guilty to controlled-substance homicide last month. She will be sentenced Thursday.
Controlled-substance homicide cases are rare, attorneys say, mainly because they are tough to prove. Either there isn’t enough evidence to show where the dead person obtained the drug, or it’s tough to prove the exact cause of death was from one drug if there are multiple substances in the person’s system, said Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik.
Golik said he expects to see more controlled-substance homicide cases as heroin use — which has seen a dramatic surge in the past three years in Clark County — continues to climb. Heroin is more likely to cause overdoses than methamphetamine, he said.
“Hopefully, this sends a message,” Harvey said after hearing the verdict
Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; email@example.com; 360-735-4516.