Homicide charges filed in one heroin-related death
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JANESVILLE Ryan O. Kennington had a greenish tint to his skin when he was found lifeless on his living room floor, a telltale sign of a heroin overdose.
The 18-year-old Beloit man’s death is the one case in Rock County where first-degree reckless homicide charges have been filed against people accused of providing heroin.
No charges have been filed in ten other heroin-related deaths, but the cases remain under investigation, District Attorney David O’Leary said.
Prosecutors can charge people who supply drugs in an overdose death under the state’s Len Bias law. The law is named after a University of Maryland basketball player who died of a drug overdose in 1986.
In Kennington’s death, Michael L. Maginnis, 18, Beloit; Johnathon M. Handy, 19, Rockton, Ill.; Emily L. Hill, 19, Winnebago, Ill., and Christopher A. Dorris, 19, Roscoe, Ill., are charged with party to first-degree reckless homicide.
Maginnis, who was Kennington’s roommate, also is charged with maintaining a drug-trafficking place. The apartment they shared was suspected of being a place where people used heroin and marijuana.
According to the criminal complaint:
Maginnis, Handy and Dorris went to buy heroin Nov. 26 in Rockford. Maginnis provided transportation. Handy made arrangements with the dealer. Dorris provided the money.
After buying heroin, they stopped in a parking lot in Rockford and injected two bags each. Three bags of heroin remained. They returned to Beloit.
At the apartment, Kennington and Hill went into a bedroom and injected heroin. Later that night, Kennington traded a Starbucks gift card for more heroin.
At some point, Maginnis received a call from Kennington, who told him he thought he had just overdosed. Kennington later thought he was getting better.
He was with Hill, who was “freaking out.” Maginnis suggested Hill take Kennington to the hospital, but she thought it wasn’t necessary.
Kennington was found dead the following morning after Maginnis returned home.
Nearly two months later, charges were filed against the four defendants.
One reason homicide charges haven’t been filed in other heroin deaths is because the cases are hard to prove, O’Leary said.
It’s difficult to know who handled the drugs, which often pass through many hands until they’re ingested, he said.
And witnesses, often heroin users themselves, are unreliable, officials said.
“There are several hurdles to prove on those cases,” Janesville police Sgt. Jim Holford said. “Some users buy from two, three, four different people in a single day.”
In other cases, “heroin overdose” isn’t always the obvious cause of death.
Autopsies often conclude a user died of a combination of drugs, O’Leary said, and other health problems could be suspected.
And the scenes of overdose deaths are often cleaned up, said Jeff Klenz, the sheriff’s deputy in charge of the special investigations unit.
Evidence such as needles and other drug paraphernalia is usually gone, he said.
Witnesses will simply call 911 and leave, Klenz said.
Authorities say at least 11 people in 13 months have died in Rock County from heroin overdoses:
March 9, 2008: An Edgerton man, 39, dies at 12:40 a.m. at Edgerton Hospital. His mother is notified of his death. The death remains under investigation by Edgerton police.
July 3, 2008: A Janesville man, 18, dies at 1:48 p.m. at Mercy Hospital in Janesville. His mother is notified of his death. The death remains under investigation by Janesville police.
Aug. 1, 2008: A Milton Township woman, 44, dies at 7:40 a.m. in Edgerton Hospital. Her daughter is notified of her death. The death remains under investigation by the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
Nov. 6, 2008: A Roscoe, Ill., woman, 29, dies at 4:58 p.m. at Beloit Memorial Hospital. Her father is notified of the death. The death remains under investigation by the Winnebago County, Ill., Sheriff’s Office.
Nov. 27, 2008: A Beloit man, 18, dies at 8:37 a.m. in Beloit. His father is notified of his death. Nearly two months later, four people are charged with party to first-degree reckless homicide.
Dec. 14, 2008: A Janesville Township man, 20, dies at 4:48 p.m. in Janesville Township. His father is notified of his death. The death remains under investigation by the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
Jan. 6, 2009: A Janesville man, 46, dies at 10:50 a.m. in his home. His parents are notified of his death. The death remains under investigation by Janesville police.
Feb. 12, 2009: A Beloit man, 19, dies at 5:36 p.m. at UW Hospital in Madison. His mother is notified of his death. The death remains under investigation by Beloit police.
Feb. 28, 2009: A Union Township woman, 36, dies at 9:44 p.m. in her home. Her father is notified of her death. The death remains under investigation by the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
March 31, 2009: A Milton man, 29, died at 7:31 p.m. at Edgerton Hospital. The Edgerton Police Department is investigating.
April 8, 2009: A Rock Township man, 26, is found dead in a Beloit apartment. Police say he had been visiting a friend after walking away from a halfway house between Beloit and Janesville. The death remains under investigation by Beloit police.