By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — The state of Indiana called six additional witnesses and rested its case in the second day of a jury trial regarding a fatal drug overdose in the Kosciusko County Jail.
In this case, 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.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Buehler continued the state’s case on Wednesday, June 9, by calling six witnesses, the first being Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office Reports Coordinator Michelle Hyden.
Hyden told the jury part of her duties include managing inmates’ accounts, which are typically used for purchasing commissary items or phone usage. People who are not incarcerated can put money onto inmates’ accounts online or through a physical kiosk in the jail lobby. Hyden described the accounts as being similar to a checking account.
A list of transactions made to Susaraba’s inmate account was submitted as evidence. The transaction log showed that on March 8, 2019, $154 was added to his account through a cash addition at a physical kiosk. Hyden said the funds from these accounts cannot be transferred from inmate to inmate; the monies are also not changed to physical cash until an inmate is released from jail.
Kevin Shanks, a forensic toxicologist from Axis Forensic Toxicology in Indianapolis, was the state’s next witness. Shanks said he received Dennis McCrory’s blood and urine samples, which were sent for testing via mail. McCrory is the jail inmate who overdosed at KCJ and later died. Shanks noted that one sample had leaked upon its arrival to the lab but said that caused no issues with testing.
Through Axis’ findings, Shanks said various analytes, or substances, were found in McCrory’s blood and urine. In McCrory’s blood, toxicologists found amphetamine, methamphetamine, morphine and naloxone; naloxone is also commonly known as Narcan, an opioid overdose antagonist. Amphetamine, methamphetamine and morphine were also found in McCrory’s urine.
Shanks said amphetamine and methamphetamine are typically found in the blood up to a day after use. However, with urine, they can be found anywhere between one to five days after drug use.
In cross-examination, Defense Attorney Everett Newman asked if there’s differences in sample results depending on if the samples are pre-mortem or postmortem. Shanks said differences are possible and also noted that everyone can be affected differently by the same drug dosage.
Through a juror question, Shanks also noted that Axis tests samples as soon as they are received.
Dr. Darin Wolfe, a forensic pathologist who conducted an autopsy on McCrory’s body, was the third witness to testify on behalf of the state. While conducting his autopsy, Wolfe said he noticed McCrory’s lungs had marked pulmonary congestion due to an increase in lung fluid.
He said McCrory experienced both pulmonary and cerebral edemas, or swelling to these organs due to excess fluid. Wolfe said the edemas are two of the most common findings he sees in fatal drug overdose cases. After conducting the autopsy and receiving a toxicology report, Wolfe ruled McCrory’s cause of death as acute mixed drug intoxication.
Wolfe said the methamphetamine in McCrory’s system elevated his heart rate while the morphine did the complete opposite.
“The two illicit drugs do different things physiologically,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said McCrory had about 1,203 nanograms per milliliter of methamphetamine in his system at the time of the autopsy.
In cross-examination, Newman asked Wolfe if he considered other potential causes of death and if the edemas McCrory exhibited were similar to suffocation deaths. Wolfe said with autopsies, every organ is studied in order to consider every possibility. He also said with suffocation cases, there’s not the same degree of edemas as what McCrory’s body showed.
Newman also questioned Wolfe about a laceration to McCrory’s liver and him experiencing a fever two days prior to his death. Wolfe said a laceration to the liver is common after a CPR attempt and also said McCrory’s sweating and fever could be possible symptoms of drug withdrawal.
Following Wolfe’s testimony, several jail inmates who were in KCJ at the time of McCrory’s death were called by both the state and defense. Daniel Swafford said he knew McCrory through day room interaction at the jail; he also said he knew Susaraba prior to Susaraba being booked into KCJ in March 2019.
Swafford said he used drugs with Susaraba in the jail on March 7, 2019, and that he bought heroin from him via commissary items. On March 9, 2019, Swafford said he, McCrory, Susaraba and another inmate used drugs.
Prior to using drugs that day, Swafford said McCrory was acting hostile and wasn’t himself. He also said he was concerned with the amount of drugs McCrory planned on using.
In cross-examination, Defense Attorney Jessica Merino asked Swafford if he had any interactions with Steven Bennett, another jail inmate. Swafford said he did and recalled an instance where he saw Bennett and McCrory do a drug exchange in the jail. He also said the drugs he described using to the state came from Bennett.
Swafford told the jury that Bennett was taken to a different jail block on March 9, 2019, after McCrory and Bennett had an argument. Swafford also said he never saw Susaraba bring drugs into the jail.
James Walsh, a jail inmate, also testified about drug use in the jail. Walsh said Susaraba provided him with methamphetamine and said they may have had a conversation about drug smuggling.
The state’s final witness for testimony was Jodie Springer, who was McCrory’s girlfriend at the time of his passing. Springer said she and McCrory had been together for about four months before he died.
In her testimony, Springer said she deposited $154 into Susaraba’s inmate account because McCrory told her to do so. Springer said she didn’t know Susaraba at that time and also didn’t know what McCrory was using the money for. The defense is also planning to call Springer as a witness in their case. After Springer’s testimony, the state rested its case and presented no additional witnesses.
The defense began its case by calling jail inmates Daniel Holbrook and Kevin Gibson as their first two witnesses.
Holbrook, who was Susaraba’s jail roommate, told the jury that drug activity was occurring in the jail prior to Susaraba’s arrival and said inmates in different blocks communicate to each other through church or recreational activities. Holbrook also mentioned an incident where he was caught with methamphetamine in his jail cell; he said he bought the drug from Bennett.
He recalled instances where Susaraba got money by tattooing inmates; Holbrook said all of the tattoos on his body were by Susaraba and that he paid for them through commissary funds.
In cross-examination, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Buehler asked Holbrook if he remembered telling an Indiana State Police trooper that he was set up for the methamphetamine possession, as well as if he recalled telling officers that he knew nothing about drug smuggling occurring in KCJ. Holbrook said he did.
Gibson said he knew both McCrory and Susaraba while they were in jail and watched Susaraba do tattoos. He said he never saw Susaraba in possession of drugs or using drugs.
The defense will continue presenting witness testimony at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 10.