A state judge likened heroin use to the deadly game of Russian roulette in sentencing a Baton Rouge man to six years in prison Monday in the 2013 overdose death of his girlfriend.
District Judge Bonnie Jackson noted that Brandon Eirick, 31, had been released from a drug treatment facility just 10 days before police found him and Leah Hutchinson unresponsive in a vehicle in the 6900 block of Florida Boulevard on Dec. 18, 2013. Hutchinson, 31, later died at a hospital, leaving behind a young daughter. She was one of 34 people in the parish whose death was attributed to an overdose of heroin in 2013.
“Using heroin is exactly like playing Russian roulette,” Jackson told a shackled Eirick, noting that both he and Hutchinson were addicted to the drug. “They were able to bring you back but not her. It could easily have been the other way around.”
Jackson sentenced Eirick to five years in prison for negligent homicide and a concurrent 20 years for heroin distribution, but she suspended all but six years of the 20-year term and gave him credit for the 15 months he has been in jail since his arrest. The judge said the remainder of his term must be served without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said the purchase, sale and distribution of heroin is at a dangerous level in the United States.
“It is a killer drug that not only kills abusers but destroys families for generations. This is one case of such,” he said. “I believe that the plea and the court’s sentence were fair and just under the circumstances.”
Eirick was booked on a second-degree murder charge but was indicted last April on charges of manslaughter and heroin possession. He pleaded guilty in October to negligent homicide, a lesser charge than manslaughter, and distribution of heroin, a stiffer charge than possession.
Eirick told police he bought heroin for Hutchinson but did not inject her with the drug. Eirick and Hutchinson injected themselves, prosecutors have said.
Hutchinson’s mother, Susan Hutchinson, said her daughter’s death left the elder Hutchinson’s young granddaughter without a mother and also cast a permanent cloud over a typically festive month of December.
“All Leah ever wanted was to be a mother,” Hutchinson said in her victim impact statement while surrounded by family.
“We loved Leah intensely and we miss her,” she added.
An emotionless Eirick spoke next, saying only, “I’m sorry for what I’ve done.”
Jackson told Eirick that drug use is a choice.
“Choices do have consequences. In this case, the consequences were tragic,” the judge said. “Choices were made on both sides.”
“This is a tough ordeal for everybody involved,” Eirick’s attorney, Fred Crifasi, said afterward.
Jackson, who recommended Eirick for a Department of Corrections drug treatment program, also fined Eirick $5,000 and ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service after he is released from prison and on active supervised probation for five years.
Once released from prison, the judge said, Eirick must undergo a substance abuse evaluation and follow any recommended treatment.
Leah Hutchinson’s fatal heroin overdose was preceded by that of 19-year-old Flavia Cardenas, who died July 26, 2013. Cardenas’ boyfriend, Jarret McCasland, of Denham Springs, is charged in East Baton Rouge Parish with second-degree murder for, police say, injecting her with a lethal dose of heroin.
In a February 2014 heroin overdose, Marc Roussel is charged with heroin possession and possession with the intent to distribute the drug. An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury chose not to indict him on second-degree murder or manslaughter charges in the death of Guy Koontz.
Roussel told police he injected Koontz with heroin, but a pathologist also found that Koontz died with multiple drugs in his system.
Under a rarely used provision of the state’s second-degree murder statute, the ingestion of some controlled dangerous substances, including heroin, must be the direct cause of death for a violation of the statute to occur.
East Baton Rouge Parish recorded five heroin deaths in 2012, 34 the following year and 28 in 2014.