Overdose Trial Approaches Its End

| August 3, 2020

CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – On November 20, 2018, Tanya Brooks entered her boyfriend’s apartment above her parents’ garage and found him dead in the shower. An investigation into that death stretched across four counties and led to multiple drug arrests, but two men are awaiting a verdict on their involvement in the chain of events that led to that death.

Nearly two years later, Clarion County District Attorney Drew Welsh laid out his case against 24-year-old Spencer Gene Rudolph, of Shippenville, (pictured above on the right) and 32-year-old Aaron Ernest Johnson, of Pittsburgh (pictured in the middle). The men are being tried for multiple charges, including drug delivery involving death, involuntary manslaughter, and the manufacture and delivery of drugs.

The story began with William Stout of Clarion. Stout and Brooks were engaged to be married, and he moved into the apartment above Brooks’ parents’ garage. Brooks said in her testimony that her goal was to have him close so she could see if he was using drugs. Brooks said she had several interventions and confrontations because Stout had been buying drugs from someone at his work. He came home on November 19 while Brooks was helping her youngest son get ready for basketball practice. She was in a hurry because she was running late, so she told Stout that she would talk to him later. When she returned from basketball practice, she did not feel well, so she texted Stout to say she would talk to him the next day. That morning, Brooks noticed that the light was still on in Stout’s window and that he had not gone to work like he should have. She got her son to school and entered his apartment. The door was unlocked, which Brooks testified was not unusual. Entering the apartment, she heard water running in the tub. Entering the bathroom, she found Stout lying in the tub, half-submerged, but his face was out of the water. Brooks said she knew right away that he was dead.

Brooks’ family called the police, who searched the apartment, finding no evidence of drugs. They hunted for Stout’s phone, eventually having Brooks call it to locate it. The cause of death was not immediately clear, but an autopsy was performed by forensic pathologist Dr. Eric Vey. Vey collected fluids to be sent for toxicology reports. When the report came back, Stout’s blood had 22 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of fentanyl in his blood. A 3 ng/mL could be a lethal amount, according to Vey’s testimony.

The toxicology report kicked off the investigation. Clarion Borough Chief of Police William H. Peck IV used Stout’s phone and interviews with Brooks to determine where Stout got his drugs. He found an entry for a man named “Spencer” and determined that this person, allegedly Spencer Rudolph, worked with Stout at Commodore Homes. During his interview with Rudolph, Peck pressed Rudolph with Stout’s death when Rudolph said he did not remember selling Stout heroin or fentanyl. Peck continued interviewing Rudolph until Rudolph said he sold Stout five “stamp bags” of what he thought was heroin, Peck testified.

Fentanyl and heroin are similar, but fentanyl is far more powerful, according to Dr. Vey. The difference, however, was highlighted by a later testimony from Joseph Hoffman. Hoffman was arrested when he was found passed out in his car in St. Marys. Hoffman told a story of meeting Rudolph at Sheetz in Brockway on November 17, 2018. Hoffman met Rudolph and allegedly made the exchange. Thinking that his work was done, Hoffman went into Sheetz to buy some food. When he came back to his vehicle, he found Rudolph waiting, upset because he thought that the stamp bags were empty. Hoffman explained that fentanyl is whiter in color than heroin, and the bag was also white, so it looked empty when held up to the light. Opening one of the bags, the substance was visible, and the transaction ended for Hoffman. Allegedly, Rudolph made a call to Stout’s phone on the way back from Brockway. Police obtained timecards for both Stout and Rudolph, suggesting the men worked together on the same day. Stout overdosed soon afterwards.

Police said they followed a trail through Rudolph and Hoffman to a man named William Fourness, allegedly the man who sent the two others on the drug runs. Using Rudolph’s phone, Peck set up a meeting in Shippenville with Fourness. When Fourness arrived, police apprehended him. Police said they continued to track the chain through Fourness to a drug supplier in Monroeville called “Smooth.” FaceTime, texts, and phone calls were allegedly used to coordinate movements, and Hoffman testified that a transaction took seconds to complete and did not need “Smooth” to be present. In addition to having runners deliver money in exchange for drugs, Fourness testified that he used Western Union to send money to “Smooth.” Tracking such a transaction, police identified a recipient in Monroeville named Aaron Johnson.

Peck, now-retired State Trooper William Craddock, and Monroeville Police began surveillance on a residence that they believed belonged to Aaron Johnson. They had been directed to this location by Ryan Gleixner. Gleixner said he had met with a drug dealer called “Smooth” at Sheetz in Monroeville, much like the other runners. However, he had also gone to a house in Monroeville, which then led police to watch that residence. Police testified that they had seen Johnson enter and leave that residence. When they searched the residence, they found mail containing Johnson’s name. They also found W2 tax forms for people other than Johnson. Multiple items were found at that residence, including numerous cell phones, bags of heroin, bags of fentanyl, some cocaine, white powder that did not contain drugs, and scales, a money counter, stamps and ink, and other drug paraphernalia.

The defense, Attorneys Eric Jobe and Robert Taylor, found some contradictions and areas for question in the Commonwealth’s case. For example, Fourness and Hoffman both talked about trying to find a supplier near Reading, Pa. Fourness described it as a loss of money, while Hoffman said he ruined that connection himself by wrecking his car. Another example was the lack of Johnson’s fingerprints in the Monroeville residence, but police said that there were no fingerprints and many gloves were also found in the house. A major point the defense stressed was the amount of time that passed from the time Brooks had seen her fiancée alive and when he was found the following morning. No drugs were found on the premises, so the defense suggests that there is a large space of time where no one knows for sure what happened.

For the defense, however, much of the cross-examination focused on the character of the witnesses. Fourness was described as a “drug kingpin” who used others’ addictions to get their cooperation. The criminal records of most of the witnesses were addressed, and their status as drug users was stressed to be why they were being used by Fourness. Multiple witnesses had retail theft charges and one even had a forgery charge when he was 14. The defense also pointed out Stout’s record, saying that his 2005 burglaries of a doctor’s office and a pharmacy could have hinted at his unfortunate death in 2018. Finally, the defense established that many of the police officers’ early interviews with the witnesses did not mention certain aspects of the case – such as Monroeville or heroin. Rudolph himself did not immediately tell Peck that he had sold heroin to Stout, saying he had sold another drug.

In the end, Welsh called 15 witnesses and Jobe and Taylor called one, which was Peck. The prosecution and defense both rested their cases on Friday. When the trial picks up again at 9:00 a.m., Judge Sara Seidle-Patton said there may be some rebuttal evidence before closing arguments and her charge to the jury. The jury is expected to return a verdict tonight.

RELATED:

For the first day of the trial, including a list of the charges against the two men and an explanation of the circumstances around William Stout’s overdose death, click here.

For the second day of the trial, detailing activities outside of Clarion County, click here.

For the third day of the trial, with both the prosecution and the defense resting their cases, click here.


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