January 25, 2015

Medina
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Woman’s family petitions judge for leniency in teen’s heroin death

Iraq war veteran Heather Graham was found guilty in August of felony charges that she provided the heroin used in a teenager’s fatal accidental overdose last year. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

Iraq war veteran Heather Graham was found guilty in August of felony charges that she provided the heroin used in a teenager’s fatal accidental overdose last year. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

More than a thousand people have signed an online petition urging a judge to consider drug treatment instead of prison for a woman found guilty of providing heroin that resulted in a Medina teenager’s fatal overdose.

Heather Graham, 31, was found guilty Aug. 5 of corrupting a minor with drugs and complicity and conspiracy to traffic heroin, second- and fifth-degree felonies.

At her sentencing hearing on Sept. 18, Medina County Common Pleas Judge James Kimbler could sentence Graham to prison for up to 10 years.

Kimbler found Graham guilty after a three-day trial in August. Kimbler passed judgment because Graham waived a jury trial.

According to testimony at the trial, Graham met 17-year-old Brittnee Johns — a fellow addict — at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Medina. Prosecutors said Graham gave Brittnee heroin in May 2013 when they returned to Medina after spending a day in Cleveland.

Brittnee was found dead in her Medina home the next morning, just days before she was to graduate from Medina High School.

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

Brittnee Johns

Graham’s mother, Leslie Jones, started the petition on Change.org two weeks after the judge announced his verdict. The petition had reached about 1,050 signatures as of Tuesday.

Jones and the petition supporters are asking Kimbler to forgo prison and put Graham in an in-patient treatment center to help her overcome addiction.

Graham told the judge during her trial she became addicted to opiates after she was injured by an improvised explosive device while serving in Iraq. She was honorably discharged in 2005 and was prescribed pain medication that sparked her addiction, she said.

“This kid’s been through hell,” Jones said. “I’m not making excuses for her heroin use, but there are reasons behind these things.”

On the petition page, Jones pleaded with Kimbler to have mercy on her daughter.

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 in August after Common Pleas Judge James Kimbler found her guilty at trial.(GAZETTE FILE PHOTO)

“The conviction has already ruined her life,” Jones wrote. “She will be a convicted felon for the rest of her life.

“What purpose does prison serve? I am pleading to the court for mercy for Heather.”

On Tuesday, Jones urged members of the community to support her daughter.

“She’s really not a bad person,” Jones said, “and she deserves a second chance like all of us.”

Jones isn’t the first to send a Change.org petition to Kimbler.

In September 2013, Kimbler recused himself from the case of Terry Boyle, who was awaiting trial on charges that she attempted to kill her young son. Seventy-nine people had petitioned Kimbler to drop the charges against her.

He said Boyle’s petition could be considered “ex parte,” an improper legal communication where one side in a case speaks to a judge about a case without the other side present.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com. Follow him on Twitter @ngfalcon.