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Trial Begins for Two Men Connected to Drug Investigation, Overdose Death of Clarion Man

Thursday, July 30, 2020 @ 12:07 AM

Posted by Andrew Bundy

6F1CF16D-24AB-4BF0-A635-488A3745F492CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – After delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a trial began on Wednesday for two individuals who were part of a multi-county drug investigation related to an overdose death in 2018.

(Photos by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)

The trial for 24-year-old Spencer Gene Rudolph, of Shippenville, and 32-year-old Aaron Ernest Johnson, of Pittsburgh, began at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, July 29. It stems from the November 2018 overdose death of William Stout, of Clarion, and spans investigations in Clarion County, Elk County, Jefferson County, and Allegheny County.

Charges in the Case

According to court documents and previous reporting, Rudolph is charged with the following offenses:

– Drug Delivery Resulting In Death, Felony 1
– Corrupt Organizations – Employee, Felony 1
– Conspiracy To Violate 911b1, 911b2, 911b3, Felony 1
– Criminal Use of Communications Facility, Felony 3
– Manufacture, Delivery, or Possession With Intent to Manufacture or Deliver, Felony
– Involuntary Manslaughter, Misdemeanor 1

Also according to court documents and previous reporting, Johnson is charged with the following offenses:

– Drug Delivery Resulting In Death, Felony 1
– Corrupt Organizations – Employee, Felony 1
– Conspiracy To Violate 911b1, 911b2, 911b3, Felony 1
– Criminal Use Of Communication Facility, Felony 3
– Manufacture, Delivery, or Possession With Intent to Manufacture or Deliver, Felony (eleven counts)
– Conspiracy – Manufacture, Delivery, or Possession With Intent to Manufacture or Deliver, Felony (five counts)
– Involuntary Manslaughter, Misdemeanor 1
– Intentional Possession Controlled Substance By Person Not Registered, Misdemeanor (three counts)
– Use/Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Misdemeanor
– Driving License Suspended/Revoked Pursuant to Section 3802/1547B1, Summary

Opening Arguments

Clarion County District Attorney Drew Welsh introduced the case like chapters in a book. Chapter 1 dealt with the discovery of the deceased, Stout, and the investigation into his death. Chapter 2 covered Clarion Borough Chief of Police William H. Peck IV and his work at uncovering the chain of distribution and manufacture of the drugs. Chapter 3 detailed working up that distribution chain. Chapter 4 wrapped up the case with the final connection to the manufacture in Monroeville.

Welsh asked the court what Rudolph and Johnson had in common. He said that his case will prove that they shared two elements: drugs and William Stout. He said that his goal is to prove that the two men are two ends of a chain of drug trafficking.

Robert Taylor is representing Rudolph. He reminded the jury that both Rudolph and Johnson are to be presumed innocent. He added that the witnesses are called to support the Commonwealth’s case of a drug organization, and that these witnesses are all trying to protect themselves in some way. He suggested that Stout’s death could have been predicted in 2005, as Stout was a 36-year-old man who spent much of his adult life in state prison. He said that there were two cell phones found at Stout’s apartment, and wondered aloud why that would be the case. He then added that from the time that Stout’s fiancée had last seen him the night of November 19, 2019, to the time that his body was discovered on the morning of November 20, no one knows exactly what happened in that apartment.

Johnson is being represented by Eric Jobe. Jobe continued to remind the jury that while drug investigations progress, people being brought in during those investigations tend to want to protect themselves. He asked the jury to keep wondering if the witnesses are credible, as drug users and dealers in trouble may fabricate stories and give self-serving answers. He called one witness, William Fourness, a local “drug kingpin” who sold drugs for profit, not to support a habit. Jobe asked the jury to consider these factors while listening to the case.


Aaron Johnson

Victim’s Fiancée’s Testimony

Welsh called Stout’s fiancée, Tanya Brooks, to the stand. Brooks said that she was with Stout for three years and, at the time of his death, he lived in an apartment above her parents’ garage. While Taylor characterized Brooks’ relationship with Stout as “on again/off again,” she said that they were working on it at the time of Stout’s death, and the reason he lived there was so she could help him get clean. She said she had engaged in some interventions and confrontations, but she had never actually seen him using drugs in the apartment, but she could see when he was high.

On November 19, 2018, Brooks said she was helping her younger son get ready for basketball practice. Stout came home from working at Commodore Homes around 5:20 p.m. He wanted to know if the family wanted a turkey he had been given at work. She said they would talk about it later and took her son to practice. Later that night, she said that she did not feel well and did not want to talk to him then. She said she had seen him on the couch in his apartment through the window. His light was on. She texted him a couple more times, and he did not respond to texts about the cats. The next morning, she saw that the light was still on in the apartment as she took her son to school. She made a note to herself to go check on Stout as his truck was still parked there and he should be at work. When she came back, she found the door to his apartment unlocked, which was not unusual, and entered. She could not find his phone because she admitted that she wanted to check to see if he was using. She heard the bathtub running. When she checked on Stout in the bathroom, she found Stout laying on his side in the bathtub, water was halfway up his body and his head was out of the water.

Brooks said she ran screaming and her mother called 9-1-1. When police arrived, they searched the apartment. Brooks had to call Stout’s phone in order for them to find it. The second phone was on a coffee table, but police were unable to get it to charge or function. On cross-examination, Brooks told Taylor that the phone was broken and that is why Stout had a new one. Police searched the apartment twice, finding only a bottle of a painkiller that was not fentanyl.

Brooks’ father Leonard also testified. He had gone outside to have a smoke on the night of November 19 and did not see anything strange. Taylor asked if he would have any knowledge of everything that happened in his back yard that night, and the elder Brooks said no.

Forensic Pathologist’s Testimony

Eric Lee Vey, M.D., testified that he had done an autopsy on Stout’s body. The autopsy did not reveal any clear cause of death. As is often the case, he collected fluid samples and sent them to toxicological lab NMS for analysis. When the results came back, the lab had found that Stout had 22 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) in his blood. For reference, Dr. Vey said that 3 ng/mL could be a lethal amount. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine.

Chief Peck’s Testimony

Chief Peck’s testimony was the longest during the first day of the trial. It continued until recess at nearly 5:00 p.m., and will be resumed on Thursday. Peck reiterated much of the information about the crime scene and explained that he waited on the toxicology report before diving into the overdose investigation. He said that knowing for sure how the victim died is very important.

Peck used Stout’s phone to see who had contacted Stout prior to his death. He found an entry for a “Spencer.” That “Spencer” had called on November 17 at 10:58 p.m. He had been given a tip about two names selling drugs in Shippenville, and one of those names in the tip had been “Spencer Rudolph.” Peck interviewed Rudolph, and Peck said that Rudolph had answered his questions. At first, Peck said that Rudolph said he did not remember selling fentanyl to Stout, but Peck said he pressed, “setting the seed to make him think.” Peck said that Rudolph and Stout worked together, and when Stout didn’t show up to work, Rudolph had to know why, pressing, “You don’t forget that.” As the conversation continued, Peck alleges that Rudolph admitted to meeting Stout in a bathroom at work and selling five stamp bags of fentanyl for $75. He said he had called Stout after picking up drugs on November 17 after “getting on the interstate” from Brockway Sheetz.

left to right: Johnson and Rudolph

left to right: defendants Aaron Johnson and Spencer Rudolph.

Peck’s testimony continued. Allegedly, Rudolph said he got the stamp bags from Joseph Hoffman in the parking lot of Sheetz in Brockway. When Hoffman was interviewed, he said that he got the drugs for William Fourness. Fourness was apparently also connecting with Rudolph after Hoffman’s incarceration. Peck used Rudolph’s phone with Rudolph there with him and set up a meeting with Fourness. Fourness was supposed to bring five bricks of heroin to Shippenville. He arrived with Kasey Eidinger and a known seven-year-old child, and police seized two plastic bags containing approximately 7.5 grams of suspected raw heroin, 4.4 grams of suspected methamphetamine, 20 white stamp bags with red eagle stamp, 28 purple stamps with red eagle stamp, a digital scale, heroin-related packaging material, the red eagle actual stamp, and $3,000, according to court records.

Fourness and Hoffman had been dealing with someone in Monroeville called “Smooth.” When sending money to “Smooth,” the alleged dealers said they used Western Union. A receipt for a $4,000 Western Union transaction showed that an Aaron Johnson received the money at a Giant Eagle in Monroeville. Peck was able to used surveillance video from Brockway Sheetz and Monroeville Sheetz to see Hoffman’s car, and then the Monroeville Sheetz had a clear shot of the license plate of a car belonging to Johnson leaving that location after a meet-up. Peck and the Pennsylvania State Police connected Johnson to a residence in Monroeville, did surveillance, and eventually were able to search the residence and arrest Johnson.

At this point, Welsh had Peck identify multiple items 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, stamps and ink, and other drug paraphernalia.

After Welsh had completed with this block of evidence, Judge Sara Seidle-Patton called a recess until 9:00 a.m. on Thursday.


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