A precedent-setting involuntary manslaughter trial set for Thursday morning was dismissed without prejudice after a technical error was found in the indictment, according to Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins.
According to court documents, Tracey O’Cull, the defendant in the case, was initially indicted in June 2016 on one count of involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony, and one count of corrupting another with drugs, a second-degree felony, after an incident in December 2015 wherein Benjamin Hahn overdosed and died.
As previously reported by The Times-Gazette, the initial case was set to go to trial Oct. 10 of last year, but was dismissed due to the possibility of an issue with discovery. O’Cull was later re-indicted on the same counts on Nov. 1, according to court documents, and the case was set for trial Thursday morning until it was dismissed. Collins said the problem this time was that the indictment did not include the schedule of the drug O’Cull allegedly sold.
Collins told The Times-Gazette that O’Cull will be reindicted in March and likely go to trial in April.
“Due to the serious nature of this case and the forseeable consequences, rather than have an event where it was reversed by an appeal, we chose the safer option, which is to dismiss and re-indict in March,” Collins said Thursday.
According to Collins, the case is new for Highland County, and part of a paradigm shift in the local justice system’s response to the opiate epidemic. Collins said there have been several cases around Southwest Ohio where prosecutors have held drug traffickers responsible for overdose deaths by charging the trafficker with involuntary manslaughter and corrupting another with drugs.
Collins said most of these cases have been resolved with a plea or a plea agreement rather than a trial, although, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, a similar case in Warren County ended with a trial and conviction in December of 2015.
A similar but separate case is currently working its way through the Highland County court system, and is set for trial March 30, according to court documents. The indictment in that case alleges Brittany Rae Wallace, 29, Hillsboro, caused the death of Ashley Ronsheim by selling her heroin last September.
Attorney Lee Koogler, who represents Wallace, told The Times-Gazette that his client shouldn’t be held accountable for the actions of others.
He said there is “some measure of accountability to the individual” who took the drugs.
“My client did not stick the needle in her arm,” said Koogler.
O’Cull is currently serving a prison sentence for separate heroin trafficking charges. She is represented by defense attorney Susan Zurface.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.