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Overdose Death Trial Continues in Clarion
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – The trial of Spencer Rudolph and Aaron Johnson continued on Thursday, with the Commonwealth’s case moving away from the scene of the overdose death in Clarion to a Sheetz in Monroeville.
(PICTURED: left to right, defendants Aaron Johnson and Spencer Rudolph. Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
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.
Chief Peck’s Cross-Examination
Clarion County District Attorney Drew Welsh continued to lay out his case against Rudolph and Johnson, who were arrested in connection to a multi-county drug investigation. When the court entered recess on July 29, Clarion Borough Chief of Police William H. Peck IV had finished his testimony for Welsh and was waiting to be cross examined by Rudolph’s attorney Robert Taylor and Eric Jobe, Johnson’s attorney.
Taylor briefly brought Peck back to William Stout’s death. Stout had been found in a bathtub in Clarion and toxicology results determined that he had died of a fentanyl overdose. He pointed out that there was an apartment nearby that housed college students. Taylor established that police did not talk to neighbors about the events that happened during the night of November 19, 2018, when Stout died. He also brought up a phone number in Stout’s phone that was from Texas, hypothesizing that it could have belonged to a student from Texas. Peck quipped that it also could be a spam call like people get all the time. Taylor also asked if Peck tracked down the other people at Stout’s employment who had purchased drugs, or looked for witnesses or camera images showing Stout and Rudolph together. Peck said that he did not, but they have time cards showing the men worked on the same day. Also, they did look for surveillance footage, but that footage did not exist. Taylor also established that Stout’s fiancée, Tanya Brooks, said that Stout had been purchasing drugs for over a year, but Rudolph had not been working in the same location for that whole time.
Taylor asked Peck if Rudolph had ever said that he sold heroin to Stout during the interview before Peck said that he did. When reading a selection of the interview, it seems as though Rudolph only mentioned selling heroin to Stout after Peck questioned it, which Welsh was able, on redirect, to pull out mentions of items related to selling heroin earlier in the conversation.
Jobe spent a large part of his cross-examination of Peck focusing on hypothetical “controlled buys” using phones Peck had access to. A “controlled buy” is when law enforcement has a cooperating individual buy drugs from a targeted person. The seller is then allowed to go as law enforcement is still working on the case. This is how police arrested William Fourness, by using Rudolph’s phone to set up a meeting. Jobe’s (hypothetical) buys were seeking ways that Peck could have set up a similar scenario for his client, Johnson, to do the same as Fourness – show up to a proposed sale. However, Peck said that he did not have any other people who would cooperate in that manner and he could not pretend to be someone else as Johnson allegedly did many deals on FaceTime, which allows him to see who he is talking to. Jobe also proposed doing wire taps and other methods of reaching Johnson, but Peck said that they already knew who Johnson was, so he did not feel that it was necessary to go through all the legal hurdles to be able to do wire taps and other options.
As Peck finished his time on the stand, he concluded by summing up what steps he had taken to get the information he needed for an arrest, closing by saying with finality, “I did it the way I did it.”
Sadie Eisenman’s Testimony
The Commonwealth’s case continued by focusing more on Rudolph and Johnson. The first to take the stand in this phase was Sadie Eisenman, of Shippenville, who had a relationship with Rudolph and lived with him from July 2018 to February 2019.
Eisenman admitted that she had used drugs and alleged that Rudolph both sold and used drugs. She testified they bought drugs in St. Marys, Ridgway, Brockway, and Monroeville, recalling a meeting at the Sheetz in Brockway where they bought stamp bags of heroin from Joseph Hoffman. From her recollection, they thought they were “shorted,” meaning that they did not get the drugs they paid for, but Hoffman was able to work that out with them. The drug in the “stamp bags,” which are small bags used to transport and sell heroin and are roughly the size of a postage stamp, was a different color than they were used to. It was white, and she said it was stronger than heroin. This story would come back up later in the trial during Hoffman’s testimony.
On cross-examination, Taylor asked if there were times where Eisenman needed her memory refreshed by police as she came to this trial. Jobe asked if her memory would have been better back in February 2019 than it would be now. Welsh, on redirect, asked her if she was told what to say, and she said she was not.
William Fourness’ Testimony
William Fourness Jr. came to the stand next. In Jobe’s opening statement on July 29, he called Fourness a “drug kingpin.” Fourness admitted upfront that he was a drug dealer, and said that his motive was not to feed an addiction but to make money. Fourness spoke very quickly, often running words together, so Welsh had to stop him several times to have him repeat himself, but he pointed at Johnson and alleged that Johnson was his drug supplier. He testified that his wife, Kasey Eidinger Fourness, connected him to Johnson and had also introduced him to Hoffman.
Fourness said that he was told that Rudolph was “a good person,” but Welsh had him clarify: “You and I might have a different definition of ‘a good person.’ Do you mean in the drug world?” Fourness clarified that it meant, in the drug world, that Fourness could trust him to pick up and sell drugs. Fourness said he started this relationship after Hoffman was arrested.
The conversation focused on the heroin that was picked up in November 2018. Fourness said he did not know the difference between fentanyl and heroin until learning that people were overdosing on fentanyl. Fourness testified that he had worked with Johnson, alleging that he had started getting drugs from him and then stopping to get drugs from “out east,” which was a person in Reading. That deal did not work out, with Fourness saying he was ripped off. The supplier in Reading sold Fourness drugs that were, in Fourness’ words, “cheaper but raw and uncut.” Johnson’s were already packaged, but more expensive, according to Fourness.
On cross-examination, Jobe worked to establish the order of events in police interviews. He wanted to know when Fourness told police about Hoffman or when he heard the phrase “working up the chain” or a mention of Stout’s death. He then shifted into asking if Fourness had ever given his runners Johnson’s number. Fourness said he did not because he did not want his runners to cut him out of the drug trade. He had an agreement with Johnson that Johnson would work with him, so the runners would call Fourness and then Fourness would contact Johnson by FaceTime.
At the end of Jobe’s cross-examination, he asked Fourness a question: “Have you been truthful today?” When Fourness said yes, Jobe continued, “Would you consider retail theft truthful? That was a deceitful act, wasn’t it?”
“I’m confused as to what your asking,” Fourness said.
Jobe was referring to Fourness’ record, including retail theft in the past.
When Taylor cross-examined Fourness, he focused on Fourness’ relationship with his dealers.
“You’re stone-cold sober,” Taylor said, “and these guys are addicts. You don’t care about these people, do you?”
“I wouldn’t call them friends,” Fourness answered.
Taylor continued, talking about Hoffman’s arrest: “Hoffman was found slumped over in his car. That was you. I just want to understand who you are.”
Joseph Hoffman’s Testimony
Hoffman took the stand next, and his testimony was often interrupted by him asking for the question to be repeated. After saying he distributed drugs, he then described a typical transaction for Fourness. Hoffman said he would be told where to go and then call when he arrived. He specified a Sheetz in Monroeville. Then, he was told what car to make the exchange in. He pulled up to the other car, a Jeep, open the door, switch the drugs for money, and drive away. He said the transaction took seconds.
Hoffman also told a story about the Reading connection. He said he was not using at that moment, but was tired, fell asleep at the wheel, and crossed the center line. He totaled another car and was cited for that incident. He was using when he passed out in a parking lot in St. Marys, which led to his arrest.
Hoffman said that he began selling to Rudolph because he “scalped” him from a friend. He said that friend was selling drugs at a higher price, so when he got a chance to go through that friend’s phone, he contacted Rudolph. Hoffman remembered the transaction Eisenman described at Sheetz in Brockway. He allegedly sold them stamp bags of heroin. Eisenman and Rudolph left, but he was unaware of that because he went inside to make a purchase. When he returned, he said that Rudolph was upset that Hoffman sold him empty bags, but Hoffman explained that fentanyl was white, like the bags, so it was not as obvious as heroin.
Jobe’s cross-examination pointed out that Hoffman was also “deceitful” with a record including retail theft. His deceit continued, Jobe pointed out, but stealing a customer from a friend. He also asked if Hoffman knew for sure that Fourness did not combine drugs from multiple suppliers. Hoffman did not know that he did but also did not know that he did not. Taylor pointed out that Hoffman’s relationship with Fourness kept Hoffman addicted, which Hoffman agreed to.
Ryan Gleixner’s Testimony
As the day continued on, the shortest testimony came from Ryan Gleixner. Gleixner was questioned to make a connection to Johnson, who Gleixner knew as “Smooth.” Gleixner said he drove to Monroeville, but did not just go to the Sheetz there. He had gone to a house that he associated with Johnson, entering through a basement door. When he was arrested, he gave police the location of that house, which is where they allegedly found mail for Johnson and drugs.
Taylor asked Gleixner, who said he is getting help and working on being clean, if he would be friends with Fourness now, knowing Fourness used his addiction to drugs to use him. Gleixner said he would not.
Timothy Smith’s Testimony
Thursday ended with a short testimony from Timothy Smith. Smith was arrested with Johnson during the traffic stop, which Peck mentioned when he testified about the items in the Monroeville address allegedly belonging to Johnson. Smith testified that he had purchased heroin from Johnson earlier in the day and had come back for more. Johnson asked Smith to drive, and when he drove away from the residence, police stopped the car.
Smith described the arrest as happening very quickly. He said he had guns pointed at him, so he put his hands up. He alleges that he saw Johnson reach into his pockets. When the police arrested Smith, they said they found drugs in his car on the passenger side.
Jobe pressed Smith on a forgery charge when he was 14 and some retail theft, to which Smith replied, “I have a record, yeah.”
After Smith finished his testimony, Judge Sara Seidle-Patton called a recess until 9:00 a.m. on Friday.
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