Jason Wedell had seen someone overdose on heroin before.
He was there in January 2016 when a friend overdosed, but his life was saved by Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of a heroin overdose.
Just months later, Wedell found the same friend dead in Janesville from a heroin/Fentanyl overdose, said Elkhorn police Detective Thomas Bushey.
Then in January 2017, Wedell delivered the fatal dose of heroin to another friend, Mathew C. Brown, 42, of Elkhorn—someone who Wedell said at his sentencing hearing Wednesday was “like a brother to me.”
Walworth County Judge Kristine Drettwan sentenced Wedell, 35, most recently of Janesville, to 15 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree reckless homicide and delivering heroin.
After Brown’s death, Bushey said Wedell delivered heroin to Brown’s girlfriend.
“That blows my mind,” Drettwan said. “What does it take? What does it take to get through to you?
“If you want to use it yourself, be my guest,” she said. “Sit in a room by yourself so you don’t hurt anybody but yourself.”
Drettwan also sentenced Wedell to 12 years of extended supervision after his release from prison.
Bushey, who investigated Wedell’s case and spoke at his sentencing hearing, urged Drettwan to consider a longer sentence than the 15 to 20 years the state had recommended.
“He doesn’t stop,” Bushey said. “Mr. Wedell has been in jail for the last year. In the last year, no one has died because of what Mr. Wedell has been delivering because he has been locked up. You have a chance today to keep it continuous.”
Bushey said more heroin and opiate-related overdoses and deaths have occurred in the last eight years of his career than in the first 32.
Elkhorn police responded to Sweetener Supply on Jan. 6, 2017, and found two employees, including Brown’s brother, standing near Brown’s body, according to the criminal complaint. Surveillance video showed Wedell getting into Brown’s car, returning to his own and leaving the parking lot.
Police later reported finding 10 packets of heroin in Brown’s work locker.
Wedell’s lawyer, Julia May, asked for three to four years of prison time because “our criminal justice system has failed,” and locking up people does not work.
May argued that her client has a difficult family history and addiction problems that require “comprehensive treatment,” which would be more available in the community than in prison. She asked Drettwan for a longer period of extended supervision than the pre-sentence investigation recommended.
Wedell read a statement to Drettwan. He suffers from dyslexia and has been taught not to express his emotions, May explained before the statement.
“He has written down his statement,” she said. “I can tell you that each paragraph that you’re going to hear took him about four hours to write.”
Wedell apologized to Brown’s family as well as his own.
He called Brown “Big Country” because of his Southern roots.
He said Brown would do anything for him, and Wedell said he would do the same for Brown.
Wedell apologized to Brown, too.
“I wish I could trade places with him,” he said.
Wedell’s girlfriend, Heather Hartlein, said in a statement that Wedell always thought about others and became “truly involved” with her children’s lives when they started dating.
Wedell is not a monster, she said, and did not intend for Brown to die.
Assistant District Attorney Haley Johnson questioned the sincerity of Wedell’s remorse. She played tapes of jail phone calls in which Wedell told family members he wanted to say he had addiction problems because it looked better for him in court.
Drettwan said she understood how Wedell could talk about how he appeared in court and how May could say he didn’t want to admit the depth of his problem to his loved ones.
Wedell’s issues and whether or not he intended to kill his friend can’t excuse the crime, Johnson said.
“Delivering heroin to an addict is like giving a loaded gun to someone who has talked about suicide,” she said.
When Wedell walked into the courtroom, he kissed a young girl on the cheek.
It was his daughter—and that was the only physical contact he has ever had with her, May said.
Wedell told Drettwan he wasn’t there to see his daughter’s birth or her first steps. He won’t be able to take her to her first day of school, teach her how to ride a bike or protect her from the boogeyman under her bed.
“I’m sorry I will miss these precious days,” Wedell said.
But Wedell acknowledged Brown’s children won’t have any more precious moments with their father, either.
Brown’s obituary shows he had three young children.
“I can’t imagine how much it feels to his children to not have their father … anymore and to his brothers and sisters and his children’s mother, who continues to raise their children alone,” Wedell said.