Jury Convicts Two Men in Drug Death Case

| August 4, 2020

CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – A jury of nine women and three men convicted Aaron Johnson and Spencer Rudolph (pictured above left to right) on all counts in a case that sought to connect a Clarion overdose death to a drug investigation spanning multiple counties.

A summary of the trial is available here.

Clarion County District Attorney Drew Welsh said that the outcome was a result of cooperation from various law enforcement agencies. He also said that it was important for William Stout’s family to see the outcome.

“It’s a very good day,” Welsh said. “The evidence was there to support the Commonwealth’s case. Especially with William Stout’s father and fiancée there and how important it was for them to see someone was held accountable for his life.”

William Stout died in November 2018 of a fentanyl overdose, sparking the multi-county investigation that led to Johnson and Rudolph’s arrest.

Stout’s father, Bob Stout, reacted to the verdict.

“It was a good verdict,” he said. “I have forgiveness in my heart [for Johnson and Rudolph]. I didn’t at first, but being a Christian, you have to be able to forgive.”

The victim’s fiancée, Tanya Brooks, was overcome with emotion as the verdict was being read. Afterwards, she said she was pleased with the outcome.

“Justice was served today,” Brooks said.

The Verdict

The jury deliberated for two and a half hours before returning to read the verdict.

Johnson was found guilty of drug delivery resulting in death, corrupt organizations, corrupt organizations – conspiracy, criminal use of a communication facility, seven counts of delivery of a controlled substance, three counts of possession with intent to deliver (heroin/fentanyl), possession with intent to deliver (cocaine), two counts of possession of a controlled substance, four counts of conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Rudolph was found guilty of drug delivery resulting in death, corrupt organizations, corrupt organizations – conspiracy, criminal use of a communication facility, and delivery of a controlled substance.

Closing Arguments

Robert Taylor, representing Rudolph, closed his arguments by attempting to cast doubt on William Stout’s character and the character of the prosecution’s witnesses. Taylor reiterated his opening argument that Stout was on a dangerous trajectory before the overdose and was purchasing drugs at his place of employment long before Rudolph started working there. He said that Stout’s death was a tragedy, but he added, “the only person to blame for that is William Stout.”

In addition to focusing on Stout’s personal traits, Taylor attempted to point out gaps in the timeline for when Stout purchased drugs and when he overdosed. He also called into question when police were able to get people involved in the case to connect dots from Stout to Rudolph to Johnson, suggesting that the connections came after police decided they wanted to take down a drug ring, and even suggested that phone calls from Rudolph to Stout could be coincidental. He added, “You’re asking people whose memories are altered by drugs to remember what happened on those dates. It would be hard for us to remember.”

Finally, highlighting the gaps in Stout’s movements, Taylor suggested that since there were no drugs or drug paraphernalia on the premises when Stout died, someone else could have been there, and that someone gave Stout the drugs and put him in the bathtub, naked and on top of the pulled-down shower curtain, to try to snap Stout out of his overdose.

Johnson’s attorney, Eric Jobe, continued to question the credibility of the witnesses and the thoroughness of the investigation. He also brought up when people related to the case brought up certain aspects in their interview. He suggested the discrepancies in testimonies and interviews were because Peck had decided who was guilty and tried to find the facts that match that decision. He attempted to cast doubt on the ownership of the house in Monroeville where Johnson was arrested and where drugs and drug paraphernalia were seized.

Jobe added that the witnesses brought in to testify to the drug ring and Johnson’s place as supplier were not good people, saying, “They have been deceitful in the past, and that is a good indicator that they will be deceitful in the future.”

When Welsh began his closing arguments, he put a slide show up on a television to help break down the particulars of the case, including displaying a timeline establishing when certain information came to light, when drugs were purchased in Monroeville, and when connections were made to bring those drugs to William Stout. He displayed the structure of the organization that Johnson and Rudolph were a part of, following money from Elk County to Allegheny County, the drugs from Allegheny County to Elk and Jefferson Counties, and across the interstate to Clarion County. He also added that Rudolph called Stout after picking up drugs at Sheetz in Brockway, making an aside that Taylor called that call a “coincidence.”

Welsh reminded the jury that they were not proving murder, but drug delivery resulting in death. He added that the address where Johnson was arrested had pictures of Johnson on the wall and a sign with glitter reading “The Johnsons.”

Welsh suggested that the lack of drug evidence at the scene might be related to Stout hiding his addiction from Brooks, who had already had interventions and had him move to that apartment to try to keep a closer eye on him. He added that getting a shower was part of Stout’s routine, and it was more likely that the drugs hit him while he was preparing to take the shower, resulting in him falling on the shower curtain.

Welsh returned to Taylor’s statement about Stout being responsible for his actions and asked about the double standard, saying, “Stout paid the price for his drug addiction, let Johnson and Rudolph be responsible for their actions.”

Sentencing Scheduled

As the jury foreperson read the verdicts, Johnson looked down at the table while Rudolph shook his head.

Sentencing for both men will be on August 26.


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