Monongahela man held for trial in heroin death in Belle Vernon
A Monongahela man was held for trial Thursday for allegedly injecting a lethal dose of heroin into the arm of a friend.
Terrence Lee Kelly, 42, is accused of injecting an overdose of heroin into the arm of Brian “Opie” Johnson, 41, at his Belle Vernon home on Sept. 4, 2013.
District Judge Richard Kasunic II ordered Kelly to stand trial for a drug delivery resulting in death, the first such case to be prosecuted by the Fayette County District Attorney’s Office.
The law was amended in 2011 by Gov. Tom Corbett to clarify that the count can be prosecuted as third-degree homicide when a person intentionally administers, delivers or prescribes drugs to a person who dies from an overdose.
Johnson’s manner of death originally was listed as accidental, but Dr. Phillip E. Reilly, the county coroner, testified Thursday that the manner will be changed to homicide, upon recommendation of a coroner’s jury.
Todd Kossar of Belle Vernon said he had just entered a North Belle Vernon bar around 5 p.m. Sept. 4 when Kelly approached.
“He said, ‘Guess what I seen today?’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘I seen a dead guy,’ ” Kossar testified.
Kossar asked Kelly if he had called the police. “He said, ‘No, I didn’t want anyone to think I had anything to do with it,’” Kossar said.
Another tavern patron went to the nearby Southwest Regional Police department, Kossar said, while Kelly remained in the bar, “mingling.”
Police Lt. John Loughner went to Johnson’s Green Street home, where Kelly had been staying, according to testimony.
Johnson was found lying across his bed in a basement bedroom.
Loughner said he knew Johnson, who used “pills, cocaine and crack,” from previous calls over the years.
“Never heroin? You never arrested him for anything involving heroin?” asked Assistant District Attorney Anthony Iannamorelli.
“Not one time,” Loughner said.
During an autopsy, Dr. Cyril Wecht found a recent puncture site in Johnson’s left arm, but no scarring to indicate previous intravenous drug use, Reilly testified.
Toxicology reports showed Johnson had ethanol alcohol, cocaine, heroin and prescription medication in his blood, Reilly said.
Defense attorney Michael Petro of Pittsburgh noted that “numerous substances, illicit and licit (legal), were found in (Johnson’s) system.”
“The straw that broke the camel’s back in this case was the heroin in the body. … But for that last straw, the camel’s back would be intact today,” Iannamorelli said.
Petro questioned that statement, and asked Reilly about the other drugs found.
Reilly said Johnson had potentially lethal levels of cocaine in his blood, and the combination of drugs and alcohol “worked against him,” along with underlying heart problems.
“The heroin is a lethal level,” Reilly said.
Lt. Stephen Schwartz of Southwest Regional Police said he spoke with Kelly on Sept. 5 at the police station.
Kelly said he and Johnson walked into North Belle Vernon the day before and purchased “a bundle, 10 bags” of heroin for $100, Schwartz said.
They returned to Johnson’s home and split the bags. “Kelly said Johnson told him, ‘I’m going first,’ ” Schwartz said.
Kelly said he found a vein in Johnson’s left arm and inserted and plunged a needle with two bags’ worth of heroin, the witness said.
Schwartz said Kelly said he was concerned because he knew Johnson did not use heroin and the kind they had was particularly strong.
Kelly came and went from the home several times that day, and found Johnson dead about 4 p.m., according to the accused’s account.
“He said he did not call 911 because he did not want to be arrested,” Schwartz said.
Kelly later changed his statement and said he “held the needle” while Johnson plunged it, Schwartz said.
At Iannamorelli’s query, Schwartz said heroin can be mixed with various drugs, including cocaine.
Schwartz said Kelly admitted disposing of drug paraphernalia and throwing the syringe into the Monongahela River.
“Whatever he (Kelly) did or did not do with a needle, there was no holding Mr. Johnson down or forcing him. … There was no disregard of human life, no intent to cause death,” Petro said.
Kelly is charged with aggravated assault, heroin possession with intent to deliver, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice.
He remains in the Fayette County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bond.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or [email protected].