Dealer gets 10 years for man's heroin overdose

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: May 29, 2012, 6:21 PM

 

A Vancouver man was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison — the maximum punishment allowed under law — for dealing a dose of heroin that killed 24-year-old Adam Hurd.

A Clark County jury convicted Jerome Otto, 23, on May 1 of controlled-substance homicide.

Clark County Superior Court Judge John Wulle on Tuesday called using the opiate a “guaranteed death sentence.”

“You do have to admit, you did make the choice and somebody died because of it,” Wulle said, addressing Otto.

Before the judge imposed the sentence, defense attorney Suzan Clark explained to the judge the severity of her client’s drug addiction: Otto was known to use 2 grams of heroin a day, which has a street value of $400. When he was booked in jail, Otto weighed 138 pounds, compared to his current 180 pounds, Clark said.

She said Otto, who was addicted to Oxycontin before heroin, now believes “the thing that saved his life was getting arrested.”

Otto, who heard testimony at his trial that he showed a lack of remorse in regard to Hurd’s Aug. 24, 2011, death, was contrite when he spoke.

“I would like the community of Vancouver to know I am very sorry. I’d like the Hurd family to know I’m very sorry,” Otto said, before beginning to cry.

The 10-year sentence is longer than typical because of an aggravating factor. At trial, jurors decided on the factor of lack of remorse after hearing evidence that Otto was dealing heroin to other users, including Hurd’s girlfriend, after Hurd’s death. The aggravating factor gave the judge the ability to impose an exceptional sentence.

At sentencing, which also included a separate possession of heroin case, Otto agreed not to appeal his conviction in exchange for prosecutors not seeking an even longer sentence.

Testimony at trial indicated that Otto and his girlfriend, Brittany Sonnen, frequently sold heroin to Hurd through a drug courier, Sonnen’s brother, Adam Sonnen. The dealers were aware that Hurd had previously overdosed twice and his father had isolated him to help ensure he would stay clean.

Four days before Hurd’s death, Adam Sonnen sold the black tar heroin to Hurd’s girlfriend, knowing it would go to Hurd, according to court testimony.

The next evening, Hurd’s father found his son unconscious at home, in the bathroom, next to the heroin. He died three days later.

Co-defendant Brittany Sonnen, 26, pleaded guilty to controlled-substance homicide and received a 68-month sentence.

Heroin use in Clark County has become a growing concern for law enforcement and prosecutors, as it has increased 400 percent over five years, according to the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office. Many teens begin using heroin after first becoming addicted to prescription drugs. Additionally, opiate deaths in the county have more than doubled since 2000.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts;www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.