Jury deliberations begin in case of UMass overdose death



Published: 05-26-2017 11:09 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Jury deliberations have begun in the case of a former University of Massachusetts graduate student charged in the death of a fellow student.

Testimony in the case against Jesse Carrillo, 28, concluded Friday morning in Hampshire Superior Court when an addiction specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Carrillo’s aunt took the stand.

Carrillo, of Derry, New Hampshire, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and distributing heroin in the overdose death of Eric L. Sinacori in his apartment in Puffton Village in Amherst on Oct. 4, 2013. Carrillo pleaded not guilty in October 2015. The charges carry no mandatory minimum sentence.

Sinacori, 20, of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, was a third-year kinesiology major at UMass. His death came 10 months after he became a confidential informant for a now-defunct program with the University of Massachusetts Police Department. The confidential informant program ended in January 2015 following news reports and a university review.

The case was not about Sinacori’s choice to use heroin in a natural sequence of events to avoid withdrawal, Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci said.

“He paid for his choice with his life,” Bucci said. “This case is about the legal consequences of somebody who does something that they know involves a grave risk of harm.”

Defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. asked the jurors to consider three “common sense questions” during their deliberations: was Carrillo a drug dealer, were Carrillo and Sinacori heroin users whose goal was to get heroin for their own personal use, and is Carrillo responsible for Sinacori’s death.

Referring to an analogy he made in his opening remarks, Carney again gave the example of a neighbor being asked by someone to pick up a gallon of milk while on a planned trip to the grocery store.

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“Well, you know, it’s illegal to sell milk without a federal license,” Carney said. “Is the neighbor who picked up the other gallon of milk, having been given money, guilty of the crime of ‘distributing milk?’ Is the person a ‘milk dealer?’”

Referencing a part of the criminal statute pertaining to distribution, Carney focused on the phrase “transfer of ownership.”

“If it were a situation where Jesse Carrillo went to the Bronx and bought far more heroin than he intended to use himself, and when he got back to his residence, a neighbor came over and said, ‘Hey, can I buy some of that heroin from you?’ that would be distribution because the heroin had been in the ownership exclusively of Jesse Carrillo and he transferred ownership of that heroin to Eric Sinacori.”

Countering Carney’s remark, Bucci told the jury that transfer of ownership was not as Carney suggested.

“It is as the judge instructed,” Bucci said. “To hand over to another or to give away, or to transfer ownership … it’s this or it’s this or it’s this. And to purchase the substance, even with a friend’s money, intending to transfer it to them constitutes distribution within the meaning of this statute.”

“That is exactly what he read to you,” Bucci continued. “That is the law.”

Bucci told the jury that, even if they accepted all that Carney had asked them to, they would still be able to find Carrillo guilty.

Carney called the case, “a terrible, terrible tragedy.”

“A terrible tragedy that Eric Sinacori used heroin and died as a result. But it was Eric’s choice and just like if it had been Jesse who died, it would be Jesse’s choice and Jesse’s responsibility of what he as an adult chose to do,” Carney said. “I submit it is the same situation with Eric. When you look at this evidence and consider an appropriate verdict, I submit to you that the government has not proven that Jesse was a drug dealer and has not proven that he should be held responsible for the tragedy of Eric’s death.”

Following the closing arguments and instructions from Judge John Agostini, the eight women and four men of the jury were sent in to deliberate shortly before 1 p.m.

Ten minutes before 4 p.m., the jury sent a note asking for clarification the involuntary manslaughter charge. After a brief discussion between the attorneys and Agostini, a written reply was sent back telling the jurors to review their instructions.

The jury was released around 4:15 p.m. and will resume deliberations Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.