Friday’s sentencing hearing began with a family’s tearful longing for Joshua R. Syck—a father, boyfriend, best friend—two years after his drug overdose death.
Despite the financial assistance that came from his death, one of Syck’s children told the filled courtroom the family would rather live in a cardboard box in the rainforest if that meant having Syck in their lives.
Syck’s brother David asked for the maximum penalty against Jeremy D. Meyer, whom a jury in July convicted of delivering drugs and taking Syck’s wallet. But the jury did not find Meyer guilty of delivering the drugs that killed Syck.
Syck’s former wife, Melissa, who’d known him since she was 13, looked at Meyer and forgave him. But she said the night when police came to her door still plays over and over in her head.
Jessica Gault, Syck’s girlfriend at the time of his death and the person who found his body on the UW-Whitewater campus with Meyer, said through tears that the images from Sept. 2, 2017, won’t leave her mind.
But one of Meyer’s defense attorneys, Jason Sanders, began his argument by noting the collages set up in the Walworth County courtroom Friday displaying photos of Syck. Two courtroom TV screens showed a portrait of Syck, one screen facing the courtroom audience and the other turned to face Judge Phillip Koss.
Sanders said he had prepared remarks, but he was “disheartened” with how the hearing was going for the case that involved two addicts who had drugs controlling their lives.
“I’m currently in the middle of a homicide sentencing for a man who a jury says did not cause the death,” Sanders said. “And I don’t really know how to argue against that.”
But Koss said the facts of the case—including Syck’s death—were relevant, and he sentenced Meyer, of Whitewater, to six years in prison on charges of delivering heroin and theft from a corpse.
Sanders brought up that what the Legislature deemed the most serious charge in this case—the delivery—is committed by every addict in some fashion. He said every county has a least one delivery case resulting in a defendant being sentenced to probation.
Koss crafted his sentence, however, by giving four of the six years of prison on the theft charge and two on the delivery charge. The judge also sentenced Meyer, who also has convictions of possessing drug paraphernalia and child neglect from this case, to six years of extended supervision.
Sanders passionately criticized District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld for asking for a 10-year prison sentence, split between five-year terms for two charges—which Sanders said meant Meyer would have to wait five years before getting treatment in prison.
“Why?” he asked. “Why does the DA’s office in my home county feel the need to try to address 21st-century problems with 20th-century solutions?
“Because God knows if there is anything you want to give opiate addicts, it isn’t treatment,” he said, sarcastically. “I’m sorry for my tone, sir, but I’m honestly flabbergasted. I don’t understand it at all.”
Sanders read from a report examining Meyer’s risks of reoffending to hammer home the point that probation was appropriate.
“Violent recidivism risk? Low. General recidivism risk? Low. Criminal involvement? Low. Criminal violence? Low. Criminal associates, peers, opportunities, social isolation—all unlikely,” he said. “Criminal personality? Unlikely. Criminal thinking? Unlikely. Anger? Unlikely.”
Wiedenfeld said Meyer was a “selfish drug user who chose to put his addiction ahead of the safety of others by dealing drugs,” adding that Meyer’s use put his children at risk, too.
The county’s top prosecutor called Meyer “a liar” and said he couldn’t be trusted. He asked what kind of person sees his friend overdosing (as they suspect Syck did the night before his death at Meyer’s home) and kicks him out?
Both Meyer and Syck, Sanders said, were good humans and decent fathers who were beloved by many. The defense lawyer questioned what the case’s narrative would be—and who receives sympathy—had their roles been reversed.
“Why are we acknowledging that addiction can have this overriding, controlling factor that is distinct from your character if your picture is on the wall but not if you’re sitting in a chair next to an attorney?” Sanders asked.
Wiedenfeld asked Koss to make a condition of Meyer’s supervision that he not enter the UW-Whitewater campus, which Koss denied and Sanders called “a meaningless rule” to potentially get Meyer in trouble.
Sanders also said he could not more vociferously object to another condition Wiedenfeld requested—that Meyer have no contact with children without a probation agent’s approval (Koss also did not adopt this condition).
Addressing the court, Meyer said he was an addict who “allowed drugs to take over” his life. He entered treatment, found a job and said he reached the final phase of family drug court and had only 60 days left.
His future in the program is not immediately clear after his sentence Friday, which was his 38th birthday. Meyer and Gault found Syck just minutes before Syck’s 35th birthday.
Gault remembers the last time she saw Syck alive, when he left their apartment and walked toward the part of campus where he died and his body presumably sat for hours.
After Syck’s death, Gault’s young son, Dayton, would look out the same patio door where his mom last saw Syck and whisper to the glass, “Dada.”
Whatever Meyer’s sentence, Melissa still won’t have a great answer when another of her kids asks who will teach them about superheroes.
“Jeremy, your kids have lost things in this whole ordeal, and that makes me sad as well,” she said. “But your children can still visit you and talk to you through glass. However, my children have to visit a headstone to talk to their dad through a patch of grass.”