Judge Weipert Tells Defendant ’Shame on You.”
During the hearing, Monroe County Assistant Prosecutor Allison M. Arnold said the community needs to know that supplying heroin can lead to death and prison.
Holding a photograph of a deceased Monroe man in a casket, a judge scolded a woman for leaving him to die in a ditch after the victim overdosed on fentanyl.
“Look at what you did to your friend,” 38th Circuit Judge Michael A. Weipert told Cassandra Rae Epps, who stood before him Thursday. “Shame on you.” Michael E. Rice, 30, passed out but was still breathing after overdosing on fentanyl in February, 2017. Instead of seeking help, Epps pulled him out of the car and left him alone in a rural ditch partially filled with icy water off W. Stein Rd. in LaSalle Township. His body was found 10 hours later.
“How could you leave my son or anyone else in that ditch?” Rice’s mother, Lisa Murphy, said in court during Epps’ sentence hearing. “I will never understand your actions or inactions. You lost the right to call my son your friend.”
Epps, 32, after quietly apologizing, was sentenced to serve 42 to 180 months in prison.
She had pleaded no contest to a charge of manslaughter after removing Rice from her car and leaving him behind. (See news report.)
Monroe County Assistant Prosecutor Allison M. Arnold told the judge that she could have pursued a stiffer sentence but the Rice family showed compassion and agreed to the minimum of 3½ years.
“This was an unbelievably tragic loss for an extremely close family,” Arnold told the judge. “If she showed some empathy for him, if she called for help, Mr. Rice would be alive today and the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office would not have charged her.”
Arnold referred to the Good Samaritan law that offers immunity from drug use or possession charges if emergency help is sought immediately for someone who overdoses. The law was intended to avoid situations like the one involving Epps and Rice where people get scared of being caught with drugs after a friend overdoses.
Defense attorney Sajid A. Khan told the judge that he believes the state law of delivery of heroin causing death, Epps’ original charge, needs to be changed because his client was an addict who tried to do the victim a favor by supplying him with heroin.
“My client is not a drug dealer,” Khan told the judge. “All we’re doing is putting an addict in prison.”
But Arnold said the community needs to know that supplying heroin, especially with the widespread prevalence of fentanyl, can lead to death and prison.
“That’s exactly what Cassandra Epps chose to do,” Arnold said.
During her statement, Murphy had a photograph of her son handed over to Epps to take with her to prison. Murphy wanted Epps to remember her son, a 2003 Jefferson High School graduate and father of three.
“I do not and will not hate you,” she told Epps, who held the photograph.
Rice’s sister, Jennifer, spoke in court via Skype and her image was projected on a television screen. She said her brother was drug free for 14 months when Epps supplied him with the lethal dose of fentanyl.
“I don’t understand how anyone can be so heartless,” she said. “Maybe she can learn to be a better person.”
Before imposing sentence, Weipert said Epps was a nursing assistant who should have known better.
“You above all people know what drugs do,” he said. “Friends do not do that to friends. Period.”