By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — Fourteen jury members were selected and six witnesses testified during the first day of a four-day jury trial regarding a fatal drug overdose in the Kosciusko County Jail.
Christopher Aaron Susaraba, 31, is charged with dealing in a controlled substance resulting in death, a level 1 felony; and trafficking with an inmate, a level 5 felony.
Susaraba is being represented by Everett Newman, Helen Newman and Jessica Merino. The state’s case is being presented by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Buehler.
If found guilty on the Level 1 charge, Susaraba could receive 20 to 40 years in prison. The advisory sentence is 30 years.
According to court documents, on March 9, 2019, Jail officers responded to a report of an unresponsive inmate. Officers entered a cell block to find an inmate performing CPR on Dennis McCrory, 39, Michigan. The inmate told officers McCrory was overdosing on heroin.
Officers continued CPR until medical personnel arrived, performed CPR and administered Narcan with no success. McCrory was later pronounced dead in Fort Wayne.
On March 11, 2019, a pathologist conducted an autopsy on McCrory and ruled the cause of death as acute mixed drug intoxication. A drug screen showed methamphetamine and narcotics were in McCrory’s body.
Several witnesses said Susaraba brought a large amount of heroin and methamphetamine into the jail. The witnesses said Susaraba was dealing heroin and methamphetamine to multiple inmates in exchange for money. Susaraba allegedly provided a large amount of methamphetamine and heroin to McCrory, who used the drugs, became lethargic and eventually overdosed and died.
Eleven men and three women were seated on the jury in Kosciusko Circuit Court shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 8, with Judge Michael Reed presiding over the trial. Two of the 14 jurors are alternates.
In his opening statement to the court, Buehler told the jury he was convinced that through the evidence the state provides, they will find Susaraba guilty.
“This case is all about Dennis McCrory and his tragic and untimely death,” said Buehler. “The evidence will show that Christopher Susaraba sold drugs to Dennis McCrory, and that Dennis used those drugs and later died. This is a story that’s far too common in our community and others.”
He further elaborated on the witnesses the state intended to call to the stand, including police officers, jail inmates, doctors and McCrory’s girlfriend.
“I’m confident after you hear all the evidence that you’ll make the right decision,” said Buehler.
In his opening statement, Everett Newman asked the jury to use common sense when making their decision and consider all possibilities while considering the evidence. He said that some inmates called for testimony will say that Susaraba was not the source of the drugs entering the jail.
“They (the state) would have you believe he (Susaraba) held those drugs three days prior to this,” said Everett, noting that Susaraba was booked into KCJ a few days before McCrory’s death. “He was held for 20 hours prior to being around the general public in the jail. They did not consider all possibilities and didn’t get the right person.”
The state began its case by calling six witnesses to the stand, the first of which being Jeremy McCrory, Dennis’s younger brother. While frequently maintaining eye contact with Susaraba, Jeremy said in his testimony that Dennis was “in and out of trouble” and knew he used drugs.
Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Det. Sergeant Neil Likens, the lead investigator in McCrory’s death, said he interviewed 27 inmates about the incident. After those interviews, Likens said he identified Susaraba as a person of interest.
KCSO Sgt. Mariah Rumple, a jail officer, elaborated to the jury about the layout of the jail, which is divided into housing blocks, each signified by a letter. Booking sheets for both McCrory and Susaraba were presented as evidence. According to the paperwork, McCrory was booked on Feb. 5, 2019. Susaraba was booked on March 6, 2019.
Rumple said the two were both assigned to K-block. On March 9, 2019, she and a jail officer were alerted to McCrory not breathing by an officer and jail inmates who were banging on doors. The jail officer she was with also performed CPR on McCrory.
McCrory and other jail inmates were found in K-block’s day room during the incident. Rumple said McCrory had no pulse and wasn’t breathing when officers arrived. After McCrory was taken from the jail to Kosciusko Community Hospital, K-block was locked down and the inmates within that block were placed in individual rooms.
Through cross-examination, Everett asked if jail inmates attempt to contact other inmates in different blocks. Rumple said they do but that jailers stop communication between blocks if they see it happening.
Curt Mosier, a Lutheran EMS paramedic who responded to McCrory’s overdose, was next to testify. He described the event as a standard cardiac arrest and said medics received a pulse back after about 40 minutes.
Mosier testified that epinephrine, commonly known as adrenaline, was administered six times to McCrory to help regulate his respiration. He also said Narcan, a medication often administered to drug overdose victims, was given to McCrory.
Bethany DeWald, a KCH emergency room registered nurse, briefly gave testimony on her interactions with McCrory at the hospital. DeWald said she drew blood and urine samples from McCrory for testing and noted that he was in full cardiac arrest upon arriving at the hospital.
The state’s final witness for the first day of trial proceedings was Tony Ciriello, Kosciusko County coroner. Ciriello said he picked up McCrory’s samples from KCH and sent them to a lab in Indianapolis for testing. He also said the Allen County Coroner’s Office was the party responsible for investigating McCrory’s death, as McCrory was taken to a Fort Wayne hospital and pronounced dead there.
The trial will continue at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 9, with additional witnesses being called for testimony.