A Walworth County jury will decide this week whether a Whitewater man is responsible for giving another man the drugs that caused his death.
Jeremy D. Meyer, 37, of 424 Pleasant St., faces charges of party to first-degree reckless homicide by delivering drugs, theft from a corpse and possession of drug paraphernalia in the Sept. 2, 2017, suspected fentanyl overdose death of Joshua R. Syck.
In opening statements Monday, defense attorneys hinted they will attempt to show the drugs that killed Syck might have come from somebody other than Meyer.
Meyer declined a plea agreement that would have given him the maximum sentence on the reckless homicide charge in exchange for dropping the other charges. Meyer pleaded guilty to a related charge of child neglect.
Meyer and Syck’s girlfriend, Jessica Gault, reportedly found Syck on the UW-Whitewater campus near where he lived just hours before his 35th birthday.
The Gazette chronicled Gault’s tragic and painful year after Syck’s death, which prompted former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch to write her a supportive letter.
Gault was the first witness to testify Monday after opening statements.
Lawyers for Meyer attempted to move the trial to another county because of The Gazette’s coverage, but a judge denied the request.
The case is known as a Len Bias prosecution—named for the No. 2 overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft who died from a cocaine overdose. Such cases charging a dealer with reckless homicide are tough to prove, making it rare for overdose deaths to reach a charge, let alone a guilty verdict.
Arguably the hardest element to prove in such cases is that the victim used the substance delivered by the defendant and died as a result.
Attorneys Jason Sanders and Mackenzie Renner, who is in charge of Walworth County’s public defenders, are defending Meyer.
During Sanders’ opening statements, he previewed two key questions he wanted the jury to consider: Was it possible Syck died of a methadone overdose, given the large amount that showed up in his system along with fentanyl?
Also, could Syck have died from drugs he bought from someone at the Garden Apartments and not drugs he shared with Meyer?
Sanders asked jurors to listen to the case like they “were about to buy the biggest house you ever bought with a mortgage you’re not sure you can afford.”
“I want you to look for cracks in the foundation,” he said.
If jurors could come up with a reasonable hypothesis to explain Syck’s death that isn’t what the prosecution proposes, they must find Meyer not guilty, Sanders said.
Sanders said Syck’s death is a “tragedy,” but that does not make it a homicide.
District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld started his opening statement by displaying a photo of Syck and giving a chronological account of what investigators believe happened before and after his death.
He described how Meyer picked up what he thought was heroin and how Syck used some of it at Meyer’s house the night before his death.
Upon finding Syck’s body, Meyer wanted to get the needle and Syck’s wallet away from the body because they could be connected to him, according to the criminal complaint.
Police later found Syck’s wallet in Meyer’s apartment, the DA said. Syck’s phone was never found.
Wiedenfeld said “aiding and abetting” a crime and “being a member of a conspiracy” are two ways Meyer could be found guilty as party to a crime.
Kori L. Kincaid, 41, of Whitewater also faces a party to reckless homicide charge. Her jury trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 12, with a pretrial hearing July 29.
She and Meyer have pleaded not guilty to their remaining charges.
Meyer’s trial is scheduled to run through Friday.