A woman who lost her only son to a heroin overdose reached out to Eyewitness News after recent reports of the growing epidemic in the stateline. She says drug dealers are getting away with murder by peddling poison. If they get caught, she says they’ll spend little time in prison.
We tracked the past of people recently arrested for dealing drugs. We found several examples where people sentenced for a serious crime really don’t end up doing a lot of time. That has led to a lot of frustration for people who lose family members to drugs supplied by dealers who they say aren’t being held accountable.
“He’s got a Slim Jim hanging out of his mouth,” said Rockton mother Tina Miller as she looked at photos of her late son Kyle Christian.
“This picture is back in Massachusetts, he had a band and this was in the patio, the screen door patio,” she said holding a photo of Kyle with a group of friends playing the guitar. Like most 18 year olds heading into adulthood, Kyle had big dreams.
“He was very artistic, and the electric guitar when he was I would say 11,12 years old he just took to that electric guitar like a fish in water,” Miller said. The dream was to maybe someday make music his career.
But, that dream turned to tears when two Loves Park Detectives showed up on Tina’s door step on a Saturday afternoon in 2007. “They came in with a sketch and they said, ‘do you own a black Ford Taurus?’, and I said, ‘yep’. I already knew, my heart just sank to my feet.” She said.
Kyle had overdosed on heroin and died. Tina lost her only son to addiction. “The first couple of years, boy, I just felt like the whole world was looking at me like they could see the pain in my face, I just reeked of pain.” she said.
Miller is still coping with the heartbreak caused by what now has become an epidemic across the nation. Ten years removed, she still yearns for justice for those who put heroin into the hands of people like her son.
“There’s no reason, it’s common sense why this can’t happen. I don’t understand why we don’t have stricter laws,” she added. Her solution, harsher punishment for drug dealers.
“I’ll guarantee you, if you interviewed anybody else, hundreds of people that have lost people, they are going to tell you the same thing,” she said. “Throw the key away, do what you have to do, but get it off the streets because this is not going to stop,” she added.
“It’s okay to say lock them up, throw away the key. That’s the most expensive option and it’s also the least effective,” said Winnebago County Chief Judge Joe McGraw. McGraw believes prison is an option to punish dealers, but he says the job of the courts is to look at each case and offender individually.
“If the full range of sentencing options are available for probation with drug treatment to prison, you would have to make a determination as to the rehabilitative potential of the individual,” he added.
“We take every instance of drug dealing very seriously,” said Winnebago County Deputy State’s Attorney Mike Rock. Rock is the head the county’s Drug Prosecution Unit. He believes the multi agency efforts to put dealers behind bars is already strong.
“The penalty range for the distributors is appropriate,” Rock said. “I think that Winnebago County, we are doing a good job, we work closely with law enforcement, we discuss most of all our dispositions with them so we know who the bad guys are,” he added.
Under Illinois law, the larger the amount of the drug the dealer has in his or her possession, the longer their sentence. “So when you are upping the kilogram quantities then you are looking at 15-60 years in the Department of Corrections at 85%. The range goes down from there,” Rock said.
But despite the possibility of longer sentences, some drug dealers get credit which allows for their earlier release. For example, Christopher Owens was arrested in Rockford back in 2012 for dealing heroin. He was sentenced in 2014 for 7 years, but just three years later he was rearrested for the same crime.
Drug dealer Antwon Deshawn Tate was sentenced for four years in 2013 but was arrested again in 2015, and then again in 2017. The second time on another drug charge. Those are just two examples of what critics say is a revolving prison door for those who would sell potentially deadly poison for cash.
“To watch that perp, the dealer, go into a courthouse and get a little slap on the hand only to be let loose again so that same cop can put his life on the line and maybe get a bullet in his head, for what?,” Miller said.
But legislators say changes aren’t likely to come in the state house. “Right now we are looking at prison reforms, we are not looking at increased penalties right now,” said Illinois State Representative John Cabello.
Cabello believes there are better options for low level heroin users than prison. However, he agrees that more aggressive sentencing is required for dealers. “If you are a dealer, I have no sympathy for you whatsoever,” he said.
But with that prison time, Cabello says rehabilitation is crucial to making a difference. “If we don’t help with the programs or any programs in prison to help them break that cycle, they are going to come back out and they are going to re-offend because that is all they know,” Cabello said. “They don’t have any other tools to utilize to try and better themselves,” he added.
Miller admits that her son made a choice to use heroin. However, she believes that stopping the source will reap benefits beyond making it harder for addicts to buy drugs.”It affects everybody,” Miller said. “It affects the whole community, burglaries, crime, the whole nine yards. If we can stop it here, I’m thinking domino’s affect, house of cards. That house of cards should come down I hope,” she added.
Owens and Tate were chosen at random based on the fact each of them were convicted drug dealers who had been re-arrested in recent weeks. Both pleaded not guilty to the new charges against them.
Rep. Cabello, Deputy State’s Attorney Rock, and Judge McGraw add prison isn’t the sole answer to solving the opioid epidemic. Cabello believes early education, work with non-profits, and drug courts are just some of the facets that need to work together to have a wholistic approach to seeing change.