By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — After three hours of deliberation, a 12-person jury found Christopher Susaraba guilty of dealing drugs to a Kosciusko County Jail inmate who overdosed and died.
Susaraba, 31, Warsaw, was charged with dealing in a controlled substance resulting in death, a level 1 felony; and trafficking with an inmate, a level 5 felony.
This case stems from the death of Dennis McCrory, a jail inmate who overdosed at KCJ and later died.
After the jury returned guilty verdicts on both charges, the trial entered a second phase in which jurors had to determine if Susaraba should be considered a habitual offender. If a defendant has a habitual offender status, a judge can enhance a jail or prison sentence.
Susaraba has two prior unrelated felony convictions for burglary and dealing methamphetamine. Because of these convictions, the state sought to have a habitual offender enhancement added to Susaraba’s case if the jury found him guilty in the trial’s first phase.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Buehler called Kosciusko County Probation Officer Kelly Krugman for testimony in Phase Two of the trial. Krugman said she and Susaraba completed a pre-sentence investigation report for a Level 6 felony case. In that PSI, Susaraba’s prior criminal convictions were listed.
The jury found Susaraba guilty of being a habitual offender.
Susaraba’s sentencing is set for 9 a.m. July 23. Following the jury’s verdicts, he was remanded into the custody of the Kosciusko County Sheriff.
Defense’s Additional Witnesses
The defense continued its case on Thursday, June 10, by calling three additional witnesses. Susaraba did not testify during court proceedings.
Josiah Shively, a former KCJ inmate, said he was in a vehicle with Susaraba on March 6, 2019, when their vehicle was pulled over by Silver Lake Police officers. Susaraba was driving the vehicle at the time. Shively said the officers learned Susaraba had a warrant out for his arrest and took him to KCJ.
In his testimony, Shively said the vehicle they were in was not searched by officers; he also said when they were pulled over, Susaraba sat still and didn’t make any motions indicating that he was hiding drugs somewhere on his person.
Through cross-examination, Buehler asked Shively how long he’s known Susaraba, as well as if they shared the same jail block at some point in time. Shively said he’s known Susaraba for about eight or nine years and considered him a friend; he also said they were in the same jail block from October to December 2020.
Jodie Springer, who was McCrory’s girlfriend at the time of his passing, was the defense’s second witness. Springer was also called by the state for testimony in this case on June 9. Through that testimony, Springer said she deposited $154 into Susaraba’s inmate account because McCrory told her to do so.
In her testimony on the defense’s behalf, Springer said she discussed tattoos with McCrory on March 8, 2019; she said she believed McCrory was using the money she deposited into Susaraba’s inmate account for tattoos.
Springer recalled discussing McCrory’s new abdominal tattoo through a video conversation on March 8, 2019. On that day, she said she noticed nothing out of the ordinary with McCrory’s physical condition. However, she noted that on March 9, 2019, McCrory was late to a phone call with her. During that call, Springer said McCrory’s speech was slurred and that he “seemed out of it.”
The defense’s final witness was Brian Richardson, a former jail inmate. Richardson was in a different block than Susaraba in March 2019. In his testimony, Richardson said he saw drugs being passed between jail blocks; he said the exchanges typically occurred by drugs being slid underneath jail block doors or during church services.
Richardson also said he saw Susaraba give tattoos to other inmates but never witnessed Susaraba selling drugs.
Buehler presented rebuttal evidence through further testimony from Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Neil Likens. In his testimony, Likens said he did not interview either Richardson or Shively about McCrory’s overdose since they were not in the jail block where it occurred.
Likens said he interviewed Susaraba about what happened on March 10, 2019. In that interview, Susaraba said he didn’t know who McCrory was prior to being booked into KCJ. When asked about the $154 deposit to his inmate account, Susaraba said he was going to use the funds to purchase commissary items for McCrory.
Through closing arguments, Buehler focused on the circumstances that led to McCrory’s death. He reflected on testimony from Daniel Swafford, a jail inmate who bought heroin from Susaraba while in jail.
“He testified about being concerned with the amount of drugs Dennis planned on using,” said Buehler. “He testified about the drugs that Mr. Susaraba provided. The evidence has shown that (Susaraba) smuggled drugs into the jail. He sold and provided drugs to Dennis McCrory, who used those drugs and died. The charges by the state are in fact true.”
Defense Attorney Everett Newman argued that the state has no case and that prosecutors want the jurors to guess or fill in the gaps as to what happened in the jail.
“They don’t have any idea … they don’t know how or what he smuggled in,” said Newman.
Newman said there was no way Susaraba could have smuggled drugs into the jail and noted that inmates had testified about drugs already being in the jail prior to Susaraba’s arrival. He also reflected on Susaraba being blamed for what occurred all because of coincidences and chances.