The 31-year-old woman accused of supplying drugs that killed a 17-year-old Medina High School student last year testified Wednesday about her struggles with heroin addiction that stemmed from injuries sustained while serving in the Army in Iraq.
Heather Graham, who lived in Medina when Brittnee Johns was found dead in her family’s home on May 30, 2013, is charged with corrupting a minor with drugs, and complicity and conspiracy to traffic heroin.
The charges are second- and fifth-degree felonies and a first-degree misdemeanor. If convicted, Graham faces up to nine years in prison.
On the witness stand for more than three hours Wednesday, Graham denied providing Brittnee with drugs on the night before her death. But she admitted to being addicted to opiates.
Graham told the court she enlisted in the Army in 2002 and served as a military police officer. She served from 2003 to 2004 in Iraq where her unit operated a detention facility for Iraqi prisoners.
“Three months before I was supposed to return home, the vehicle I was riding in was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device,)” she said.
Graham suffered injuries to her back, neck and head. She also was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
After an honorable discharge in 2005, Graham said she worked at several security companies.
In 2007, she said she became a U.S. marshal based in Virginia. While there, she began taking oxycodone to manage back pain caused by the bomb injury.
“I was put on oxycodone and I took oxycodone up until about 2010,” she said.
That’s when she started taking heroin and became unable to keep a job, she said.
Graham testified she lived with friends and in homeless shelters until the spring of 2013, when she moved to Medina to live with her father and stepmother.
After moving to Ohio in mid-May, she said she began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Medina, where prosecutors said she met Brittnee, who also was a recovering addict.
Graham said she also sought treatment from the Veterans Addiction Recovery Center through the Cleveland Veterans Affairs office.
“That’s why I came to Cleveland, to get clean,” she said. Graham said she thought she would have a better chance at sobriety away from known drug users.
Graham said she enrolled in the VA program in mid-June of 2013 and is now living in Cleveland.
She receives methadone doses daily through the VA.
Graham disputed earlier testimony from prosecution witness, Jason Gangle, of Medina.
Gangle testified in court Monday that on May 29, 2013, he drove with Graham and Brittnee to Cleveland, where he bought heroin with money Graham gave to him.
He also testified he and Graham used the heroin while in Cleveland while Britnee drove the car.
During her testimony, Graham said she rented a car in Medina and Brittnee drove the car.
Graham said she had recently received a settlement check from a car accident in early May in which her car was totaled and she wanted to take a drive. She said she and Brittnee were just looking for something to do when they went to Cleveland.
The two picked up Gangle and headed to the Cleveland Veterans Affairs hospital where she wanted to ask about shuttle bus service.
She said she was inside the hospital for 25 minutes to a half-hour. During that time, she said it was possible that Gangle and Brittnee drove somewhere nearby to purchase drugs.
During cross-examination, assistant County Prosecutor Matt Razavi asked why she withdrew $200 from a Medina ATM and $50 from a Cleveland ATM even though she used a debit card for other purchases that day.
Graham said she used her debit card because she didn’t remember she had withdrawn the money.
“I just forgot about it,” she said. She said she usually puts her money in her left pocket put had placed the $200 her in right pocket and forgot she had cash.
Razavi questioned why Graham would spend money on a rental car when a Google search or phone call could have answered her questions about the shuttle bus.
“You had a smartphone. You looked up the rental car and a cab company and called them,” Razavi said.
Razavi also asked Graham about Gangle’s testimony on Monday.
Gangle testified that Graham had withdrawn $200 and she withdrew another $50 to pay him $220 for the heroin he purchased.
Graham said Gangle’s testimony was false.
“Any idea how Jason Gangle knew you had $200 in cash,” Razavi asked.
“No.” she said.
Razavi also asked Graham about text messages she and Brittnee shared during a cab ride home after dropping off the rental car about 11:15 p.m.
While in the cab to Brittnee’s house, the teen texted Heather: “Can you give me some sh—? I’ll give you money tomorrow.”
Heather responded, “How do you expect me to do that, do you want me to pull it out in front of him?”
On Monday the taxi driver testified Graham and Brittnee left his cab for 10 and 15 minutes at Brittnee’s house.
Prosecutors contend that’s when Graham gave Brittnee the drugs.
“She was an addict and she knew this was her last chance that night,” Razavi said.
But Graham said she only left the cab for about one to two minutes to walk Brittnee to the back door of her townhouse.
“You couldn’t see the door and I wanted to make sure she got there safely,” she said.
When asked about the text messages, Graham said she thought Brittnee was asking her for a cigarette and didn’t want the cab driver to know she was a smoker.
Graham’s attorney, Anthony Bondra, has suggested there were other known heroin users in contact with Brittnee during the day of May 29, and it’s possible she could have secured heroin from them.
But Razavi argued it was significant that there were no other text messages or calls made from Brittnee’s phone after she was dropped off by the taxi.
Bondra also pointed to a drug test Graham took at the VA on May 30, the day Brittnee was found dead that showed Graham’s urine was negative for opiates.
“She took that test at 9:48 a.m.,” he said. “That was before anyone from the police department had contacted her about Brittnee.”
But Razavi said the preliminary drug test Graham took that day was easy to beat because it was unobserved. He noted that Graham failed 11 drug tests in July once she entered the full program and was required to submit to tests with someone watching.
“When they start to test her in a regulated environment, she tests positive 11 times,” he said.
Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler asked Graham if she used another person’s urine for the test.
She said she did not.
Because Graham chose not to have a jury trial, Kimbler will decide her fate.
At the conclusion of the three-day trial on Wednesday, Kimbler said he would take a few days to review the testimony and likely would not make a decision until next week.
He said the story of Brittnee’s death was a tragedy.
“She was obviously well loved, but sometimes a parent’s love isn’t enough,” he said.
“It’s just so sad.”