September 30, 2014

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Recovering addict guilty of providing drugs to teen who overdosed

Nick Glunt and Loren Genson | The Gazette

MEDINA — An Iraq war veteran was found guilty Tuesday morning of providing drugs to a teenager who died of an overdose last year.

Brittnee Johns, 17, was found dead of an overdose in her home in May 2013.

Heather Graham is escorted out of a Medina County courtroom on Tuesday after Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler found her guilty in the heroin overdose death of  17-year-old Brittnee Johns in May 2013.(LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

Heather Graham is escorted out of a Medina County courtroom on Tuesday after Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler found her guilty in the heroin overdose death of 17-year-old Brittnee Johns in May 2013.(LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

Heather Graham, 31, was charged with corrupting a minor with drugs and complicity and conspiracy to traffic heroin. At her Sept. 18 sentencing before Medina County Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

“I feel like it will give Brittnee some peace, and we can all finally move on,” Meghan Blough, Brittnee’s aunt said of the verdict.

Kimbler rendered Tuesday’s verdict because Graham opted for a bench trial.

According to testimony at her trial two weeks ago, Graham met Brittnee at Narcotics Anonymous. Prosecutors said they believed Graham gave Brittnee heroin after they returned to Medina after spending a day in Cleveland.

Brittnee was found dead the next morning.

Brittnee’s mother, Darlene Johns, and her fiance, Dennis Martin, said they hoped Graham would continue to receive sobriety support while behind bars.

“While this does not bring Brittnee back, we find solace in the fact there is some responsibility,” said Martin, who helped to raise Brittnee. “Hopefully she can focus on sobriety.”

Graham’s attorney, Anthony Bondra, said he trusts Kimbler’s ruling.

“I know the judge spent a lot of time evaluating the evidence,” he said. “Obviously we’re disappointed by it, but we respect it.”

He said he believes somebody else gave Brittnee the drugs.

“There were two sides to this story,” Bondra said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”

Graham’s mother, Leslie Jones, who attended Tuesday’s hearing, said she was upset by the judge’s decision.

“My daughter didn’t kill that girl,” she said. “That girl was an addict before my daughter came along.”

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

Brittnee Johns

Graham said during her trial that she became addicted to opiates after she was injured by an improvised explosive device while serving in Iraq. After an honorable discharge in 2005, she was prescribed pain medication and became addicted to opiates.

Jones said her daughter was a quiet and kind person who was in law school before her addiction to heroin became too much to handle. She said she was worried about her daughter’s incarceration and the impact it would have on her future.

“She’s been doing very good in treatment,” she said. “Now she has to serve jail time and when she comes out, she’ll have a felony record.”

Several of Graham’s friends also were there to support her, including Lovell Cochran, a fellow veteran who helped Graham through treatment at Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.

“She’s been trying to put her life together,” Cochran said, “and we’ve been working diligently together to help her and others.”

Graham, who had only been living in Ohio for a few weeks when Brittnee died, came to Medina to get away from heroin abusers in Virginia, where she had settled after her time in the military. She worked as a U.S. marshal and held other security-related positions before coming to Ohio.

The family of Brittnee Johns reacts to a guilty verdict for Heather Graham, 31, of Cleveland, in Medina County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

The family of Brittnee Johns reacts to a guilty verdict for Heather Graham, 31, of Cleveland, in Medina County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

Cochran said he understood Graham’s struggle because he became addicted to opiates during the Vietnam War and has been struggling with addiction for 38 years. He said he’s five years clean, so he serves as a role model for veterans with addictions like Graham.

“She’s a good person, and we accepted her as our little sister,” he said. “I feel very bad about this incident, but we’ve all got to remember that our actions have consequences — some good, some bad.

“You don’t ask for trouble. It just shows up.”

He said he hoped Graham would take advantage of the treatment options while incarcerated at the county jail, and in prison if it comes to that.

Graham’s friend, Lisa Lopez, who attends the same VA recovery program, said she was in recovery for an addiction to pain pills. Though she never used heroin, she said she understood Graham’s addiction and the two became friends while in treatment.

“It’s so hard for me because I know Heather has a good heart,” she said. “I just pray her military service and her background will go toward a shorter sentence.”

Lopez said she feels sad for Brittnee’s family.

“The big picture here is that heroin and pain pills are destroying families,” she said.

County Prosecutor Dean Holman said he was satisfied with the verdict.

“The facts of this case show how dangerous heroin actually is,” Holman said. “I’m pleased with the work of the police and Matt Razavi, who tried the case.”

He said the case was tough because it was sad.

“This is a tragic loss,” he said. “A young girl with a life in front of her died days before her graduation.”

At Graham’s trial, witness Jason Gangle testified that he bought the drugs in Cleveland with Graham’s cash and took a “finder’s fee” from her money.

Gangle, 23, of Medina, was sentenced Thursday to nine months in prison for his part in Brittnee’s death. He had pleaded no contest to two counts of complicity to traffic heroin, one a fifth-degree felony and one a first-degree misdemeanor.

He also pleaded guilty in a separate case to grand theft (firearm), a third-degree felony.

Gangle admitted at sentencing that he too was an addict and said he wanted to overcome it, especially after Brittnee’s death.

Medina Police Chief Patrick Berarducci said he thought Kimbler made the right call.

“With this verdict, we have convicted both people involved in the death and sent a strong message to the community about our resolve,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “We work every overdose like a homicide investigation and pursue the dealers like we would a gunman.

“There is a price to pay for dealing heroin in Medina.”

He thanked his detectives — especially Sgt. Brett McNabb and Josh Grusendorf — for their work on building a case against Graham.

“I hope this prosecution gives Brittnee’s family some comfort,” Berarducci said.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com. Follow him on Twitter @ngfalcon. Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorengenson.


  • franksnbeans

    Its a

  • Kris

    “That girl was an addict before my daughter came along.” Sad fact. She was in rehab because of her addiction.

  • Speakthetruth

    Brittnee told everyone in our rehab meetings that her step-father is the one who started herself and her brother on heroin. Where was her mother then?

  • Britts dad

    You all are worthless idiots with no information of fact only opinion! My grandfather always told me opinions are like assholes and we have them…. And they all stink!

  • Britts mom

    And who are you to say she didn’t? Do u know that for a fact? The girl denied any responsibility to even buying it that day. Who was in court to listen to the truth? Obviously not you!

  • Speakthetruth

    Well as a matter of fact, we did read the paper and they said that Britnee had texted several people looking for drugs that day, remember that part? If you can’t read the comments without insulting people, then stay off of the internet. smh

  • Speakthetruth

    Grow up

  • Speakthetruth

    They want revenge, but won’t take responsibility for their own behavior

  • Speakthetruth

    Worthless idiots? Classy family you have there!

  • Heather’s mom

    My heart is broken tonight. My beautiful daughter is sitting in jail, a beautiful young girl is gone. No one wins in this situation. My heart goes out to her family and I hope this gives them closure. I am so sorry this happened regardless of who did what.

  • Heather’s mom

    Thank you, Kris

  • Heather’s mom

    Thank you for saying that. I agree.

  • Anonymous!

    Perhaps someone should explain the concept of anonymity to you.

  • Hobo4626

    Yes, this is a sad situation. I feel for both family’s. However, Brittnee did this to herself, no one shot her up with the drug. This drug, and as a matter of fact any drug (including alcohol) is a horrible addiction. They all ruin lives and families. But, there comes a time when we have to understand that the addict’s do this to themselves. They have to want to change and have the support of their families and friends to change. For the addict they have to hit rock bottom in life to want to beat their addiction. The addict’s make the decisions themselves, blaming others is not the right way. Go after the big picture the drug dealers.

  • Hobo4626

    I am not a worthless idiot. My ex, was an alcoholic, I know what addiction can do to not only the person but families also. It took my ex hitting rock bottom and three rehab trips to finally face his demon and become alcohol free. He later passed away from cancer, but remained alcohol free to the end.

  • Speakthetruth

    The truth hurts, doesn’t it, Britt’s family!!!!

  • Speakthetruth

    You are denial and saying mean things that you shouldn’t. You are showing your true colors, Britt’s mom!

  • Mother of an addict

    One word comes to my mind when reading some of these comments: ignorance. Addiction is a disease. It cannot be cured. A program has to be worked. It is not an easy task to undertake for anyone – especially a 17-year old girl. It does not matter that Brittnee was in treatment (that’s the politically correct word – not rehab) prior to her passing. What matters to me is this: if the DEALERS WERE NOT SELLING HEROIN Brittnee would be alive today. I suggest those writing the comments about Brittnee “making a choice” do some research – get your head of the sand – about substance abuse. If a diabetic refused to take insulin and died would one judge him or her? And, finally in response to “SPEAKTHETRUTH”: I am certain you are in violation of HIPAA rights by repeating any conversation held in confidence. I say this again – get the dealers off the streets – no matter what it takes.

  • Anonymous

    Hobo, you’re right!…they should go after the drug dealers…and in this case it appears they did. Heather Graham provided the drugs; hence, she was the dealer – she deserves to go to prison for a long time.

  • Factfinder

    If that girl was a dealer, then where does that Jason Gangle come in? He was Brittnee’s dealer and she introduced that woman to him. Doesn’t that make Brittnee the dealer? Get your facts straight! Duh!

  • Cleanandsober

    HIPPA only applies to medical patients, Brittnee’s mom!

  • Mother of an addict

    Heather Graham “was charged with corrupting a minor with drugs and complicity and conspiracy to traffic heroin”. Seems to one who has clear vision can see that Heather Graham made her choice as well. Brittnee paid the ultimate price as did her family. Let Heather Graham pay her price.

  • Addictedtolife

    Will that bring Brittnee back? You just want someone to pay. Vengeful and hateful!!!

  • Heather’s mom

    Hmm, interesting.

  • Mother of an addict

    This is NOT Brittnee’s mom writing. If the “rehab meetings” were held at any treatment center, they are bound by HIPAA laws. See Section I(C). Again do some research.

  • Mother of an addict

    Further the second A in NA or AA represents ANONYMOUS.

  • Speakthetruth

    Blah blah blah!

  • disqus_cwGzHq4pLm

    Yes she was an addict, but what in gods name was a 30 year old doing with such a young girl? It makes me sick to think a grown woman thought it was ok to give a child heroin. Addict or not. She needs to live with the fact that she gave a girl a drug that killed her. A girl that had so much life to live.

  • B…

    Idk who you are but you clearly aren’t a parent. Maybe you should consider growing up before commenting on something you clearly have no real understandings to.

  • Kinswins

    Deepest sympathy to the family in the loss of their precious child and may God give them and Heather strength for the days ahead. No one wins in the disease of addiction. People need compassion for all involved

  • Realistic

    This story proves the point that contaminated drugs need to be put on the street. The only way to get people to stop is to scare them with contamination.

  • baforce

    I am right with you britts mom , stand your ground keep your head up and HOW DARE them even argue with you unthinkable !

  • baforce

    AMEN !

  • Heroin Sucks

    Hippa laws only apply if there is a health care professional, insurance company employee,etc. involved. These laws do not apply to other addicts in treatment. Any AA or NA group that meets at a recovery center is facilitated by members of said group, not by the health care professionals at these facilities. An AA or NA meeting is not to be confused with a group therapy session run by rehab facility therapist. “An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any
    related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money,
    property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.” The primary purpose is recovery for any person who desires to stop using. AA and NA do not endorse any rehab programs period. “Speakthetruth” can not speak for AA or NA (nobody can), and he clearly lacks even a basic understanding of the principals behind these 12 step programs. What has happened to both Brittany, and Heather is an absolute tragedy brought on by the extremely deadly disease of addiction. The sad fact is that these two individuals were both doing what addicts do, getting high by any means possible. Lives are being lost in this battle, in this county, on a constant basis. It would help if the parents of Medina county actually knew just how many lives were being lost, especially young lives. The only real defense against Heroin addiction is never trying it. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Brittany, and to Heather.

  • baforce

    It sickens me that you people are blaming a deceased child and harrassing her family on a website ! Addicts have a disease and drug dealers should be in jail whether people die or not ! At least she tried to help herself and went to rehab ! your so focused on yourself , you fail to mention that !! and state it like its a bad thing … what excuse do you have that a 30 year old was selling drugs ?? there isnt one !!!!! Karma and God will deal with this and shame on u !

  • Mother of an addict

    Any meetings held in or at or for a treatment facility are bound by HIPAA laws – especially for substance abuse for a minor. I referenced HIPPA because of the “rehab meetings” referred to by “speakthetruth”. I was not referring to NA or AA meetings. I truly understand those organizations as I am a member of Al-Anon.

  • Tellthetruth

    Sad

  • Anonymous

    No one has mentioned the fact that Heather is a soldier who went and fought for us! She has severe PTSD and was hit by a bomb. This is how she got on pain pills and eventually heroin in the first place. For Brittnee’s mother to suggest that she killed her is absolutely ludicrous (which you can read for yourself in an earlier post. There are even pictures in Brittnee’s Photo-bucket account to this day using heroin, although I’m quite sure as soon as the family sees them she will get them down ASAP. Yes, I saved a copy. No, I won’t share it. What bothers me, is that everyone is demonizing Heather and acting like Brittnee was a saint. They were both beautiful, intelligent girls who got hooked on Heroin. They met at rehab, probably went to find drugs, as addicts do, and a tragedy occurred. How do you know that Heather doesn’t cry for Brittnee? I feel bad for everyone in BOTH families. Lives destroyed forever, no one in either family will ever be the same. It’s happening every day, everywhere. And it will continue to take lives until people start working together and stop playing the blame game. Addicts get high because they WANT to get high. You don’t have to force an addict to get high, they will do anything to get it. For anyone to throw a soldier with PTSD in prison because a fellow addict that she was with for one day died, is a complete travesty of justice! also, by reading some of these hateful comments there is sort of a “lynch-mob mentality” smell to it that just stinks. People attacking each other, most of who don’t know both of these 2 girls. It’s really, really sad.

  • Ex addict

    Well you’re just a little mentally challenged there, aren’t you? What you’re saying is you want people to die? Wow! Stupid!

  • Disgusted

    I live here in Medina and the judge’s wife is running for his seat when he retires. I wonder if he’s getting pressure at home? I won’t vote for her, no way!

  • Medina gal

    You’re really not very bright, are you? Let me spell it out for you: Brittnee used heroin because she wanted to. Deceased or not, she did it to herself!!! Any questions? smh

  • Medinagal

    You’re a special kind of stupid, aren’t you? smh

  • Medina gal

    Dumbass

  • Logic

    Old topic but this sentence does make.sense! She didn’t force brittnee to use but did supply her! She needs to be some what accountable and responsible for this. Yes so does brittnee, she is serving her sentence!