March 4, 2015

Medina
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Medina woman facing trial over teenager’s death from heroin overdose

Loren Genson and Nick Glunt | The Gazette

Medina High School student Brittnee Johns, 17, was found dead in 2013 in her Canterbury Lane townhouse of a drug overdose.

Medina High School student Brittnee Johns, 17, was found dead in 2013 in her Canterbury Lane townhouse of a drug overdose.

A recovering heroin addict is on trial this week, accused of supplying drugs that killed a 17-year-old Medina High School student two days before she was to graduate last year.

Heather Graham, 31, of the 200 block of Medina’s Broken Fence Drive, is accused of providing drugs to a juvenile and trafficking heroin purchased in Cleveland.

Graham spent May 29, 2013, with Brittnee Johns, who was found dead from an overdose in the bedroom of her family’s Canterbury Lane townhouse the next morning, according to police.

The cause of death was “cardiorespiratory collapse due to acute intoxication with heroin,” according to Medina County Coroner Dr. Neil Grabenstetter.

A Medina County grand jury indicted Graham in December on charges of corrupting another with drugs, a second-degree felony, as well as complicity and conspiracy to traffic heroin, a fifth-degree felony.

Graham and her attorney, Anthony Bondra, declined a jury trial, choosing to have her case decided by county Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler.

Heather Graham, left, is accused of supplying a 17-year-old Medina girl with heroin the night she died of an overdose. Graham, with her attorney Anthony Bondra, listens to testimony Tuesday afternoon at her trial in Medina County Common Pleas Court. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

Heather Graham, left, is accused of supplying a 17-year-old Medina girl with heroin the night she died of an overdose. Graham, with her attorney Anthony Bondra, listens to testimony Tuesday afternoon at her trial in Medina County Common Pleas Court. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

If convicted, Graham faces up to nine years in prison.

Prosecutors told the judge Graham and Brittnee met at Narcotics Anonymous sessions, which they attended as recovering addicts.

Medina police Detective Josh Grusendorf testified Tuesday that Graham rented a car on May 29, 2013, and then picked up Brittnee at her home.

He said bank statements showed Graham withdrew $290 from several ATMs and police believe she spent $220 to buy 1.5 grams of heroin from a dealer in Cleveland.

Graham’s indictment specified the drugs were purchased by Brittnee’s friend, Jason Gangle, of the 700 block of East Reagan Parkway, Medina, using Graham’s money.

Grusendorf testified that when interviewed by police, Gangle said he went to Cleveland with the two women and admitted to using drugs with Graham during the time the three were there.

In the interview, Gangle said he was friends with Brittnee prior to May 29, but had only just met Graham that day, Grusendorf told the judge.

When asked if Brittnee was using heroin while in Cleveland, Gangle told Grusendorf that she had not.

“He didn’t think Brittnee was planning on using that day,” Grusendorf said.

In December, Gangle was charged with complicity to commit trafficking in heroin, a fifth-degree misdemeanor and conspiracy to trafficking in heroin, a first-degree misdemeanor. Gangle entered a no contest plea to both charges on June 5 and a sentencing is scheduled for July 31.

County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Razavi said Graham gave Brittnee the drugs when they got back to Medina in the rented car.

Medina County Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler takes notes during testimony Tuesday from Medina police Detective Josh Grusendorf at the trial of Heather Graham. Graham is accused of supplying drugs to 17-year-old Brittnee Johns, who died of a heroin overdose last year. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

Medina County Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler takes notes during testimony Tuesday from Medina police Detective Josh Grusendorf at the trial of Heather Graham. Graham is accused of supplying drugs to 17-year-old Brittnee Johns, who died of a heroin overdose last year. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

After returning the car to the rental facility, they called a cab, Razavi said.

The taxi driver, Ken Kirstein, testified Monday. In an interview with The Gazette on Tuesday, Kirstein said he didn’t notice anything unusual about Graham or Brittnee’s demeanor and they didn’t appear to be under the influence when he picked them up around 11:15 p.m. at the Hertz car rental on Pearl Road.

Kirstein said the two women left his cab at Brittnee’s home, saying they were splitting up some purchases they had made and Graham would return in a few minutes to continue to her home.

Kirstein said he didn’t see exactly where they went because he was cleaning up a drink Brittnee had spilled. He said the drink didn’t smell like it had alcohol in it.

“When Heather came out, she didn’t have any bags in her hand,” he said. “If they were splitting up their belongings, I think she would’ve come out with some of her purchases, but she didn’t have anything in her hand when she came out.”

Razavi said investigators suspect Brittnee got the heroin from Graham after they were outside the cab.

“That’s when we suspect she sold Brittnee the heroin,” he said. “There’s no other reason to disappear for 10 minutes when you’re getting a taxi ride home.”

In court Tuesday, Grusendorf testified that Graham told him she only exited the cab at Brittnee’s home to walk Brittnee up to her door and make sure she got inside safely.

Heather Graham

Heather Graham

Grusendorf also testified about his investigation of Brittnee’s home the morning of May 30 after her mother found her dead. Grusendorf said no drugs or paraphernalia were found in the home.

But references to drugs were found on text messages left on Brittnee’s cellphone, he said.

Grusendorf said Graham and Brittnee were texting the morning of May 29 about plans to meet. In the messages, each talked about their sobriety and how they both struggled with a desire to use drugs.

Another text message from later in the evening of May 29 from Gangle to Brittnee said, “Yo, let that girl know I’ll keep giving her sh– if she gets me high too.”

The prosecution finished presenting its case to Kimbler on Tuesday and the defense is expected to present its case today starting at 9:30 a.m.

Reporter Katie Anderson contributed to this story.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4603 or at lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or at nglunt@medina-gazette.com. Follow Genson and Glunt on Twitter @lorengenson and @ngfalcon.