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Involuntary manslaughter conviction affirmed in woman’s fentanyl death

Legal News Reporter

Published: April 10, 2018

The 9th District Court of Appeals has affirmed the involuntary manslaughter conviction for a man believed to have provided a Summit County woman with a fatal dose of fentanyl.

Kevin Ecker was sentenced to 21 years in prison after a jury found him guilty on multiple counts stemming from the March 22, 2015 death of J.C.H., a young woman who struggled with addiction.

According to court records, J.C.H.’s body was discovered by her family on the floor of her bedroom. There were drugs and paraphernalia nearby, and the coroner ruled she died of a fentanyl overdose.

Police quickly identified Ecker as the person who gave her the lethal dose.

Armed with a warrant, police found fentanyl, alprazolam, suboxone, marijuana, needles, digital scales and drug packaging materials at Ecker’s home two days after the woman’s death.

On appeal, Ecker argued the trial court erred by allowing the state to ask witnesses about the increasing number of overdose deaths in Summit County.

Ecker claimed prosecutors committed misconduct during direct examination of three separate witnesses about overdose trends, as well as during closing argument.

However, the appellate panel determined the prosecutors’ questions and argument were not improper.

“… The State produced a wealth of evidence tending to show that Mr. Ecker had substantial quantities of narcotics in his possession, that he admitted having sold heroin to J.C.H. before, that he, in fact, had sold her fentanyl directly before her death, and that he routinely sold narcotics to other individuals,” 9Th District Judge Lynne S. Callahan wrote in her 3-0 opinion.

“He has not shown that testimony about trends in overdose deaths, in general, affected the outcome of his trial.”

Ecker also attempted to argue that the trial court abused its discretion by joining his 2015 and 2016 indictments at trial.

The appellant was first charged with aggravated trafficking in fentanyl, trafficking in marijuana, possessing marijuana, possessing alprazolam, possessing suboxone, illegally using or possessing drug paraphernalia, possessing drug abuse instruments and multiple forfeiture specifications. A supplemental 2015 indictment charged him with involuntary manslaughter, corrupting another with drugs, aggravated trafficking in fentanyl and trafficking in marijuana.

He faced more charges in 2016 after police went to his new apartment while receiving a call about gunshots fired near the location while Ecker was out on bond.

The 2016 indictment charged him with aggravated trafficking in methamphetamine and fentanyl, possession of cocaine, possession of drug paraphernalia and multiple forfeiture specifications.

The court ordered the cases consolidated for trial over Ecker’s repeated objections. Ecker pleaded no contest to two possession counts and several counts were dismissed. The jury found him guilty on all remaining counts.

Ecker argued that the joinder prejudiced him because the evidence in each case was not simple and direct.

The appellant claimed he was held accountable for the drugs the police found in the 2016 case because the jury was aware that he had already been charged with a homicide and multiple drug offenses at the time of his arrest.

The panel also disagreed with Ecker’s claims that the trial court allowed prior bad acts evidence when a detective testified that the appellant had been unwilling to wear a wire or act as an informant.

“At worst, Detective (Michael) Schmidt’s testimony made it appear that Mr. Ecker was unwilling to assist the police in investigating his drug supplier or other individuals involved in the drug trade. That testimony, however, had no bearing on Mr. Ecker’s own culpability in the commission of the offenses with which he was charged,” Judge Callahan wrote.

Ninth District judges Julie Schafer and Thomas Teodosio concurred.

The case is cited State v. Ecker, 2018-Ohio-940.