Trial begins for former UMass grad student charged in fatal overdose



Published: 05-24-2017 5:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Testimony began Wednesday in the trial of a former University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate student accused of supplying a fatal dose of heroin to a fellow student in 2013.

J.W. Carney Jr., attorney for Jesse Carrillo, 28, of Derry, New Hampshire, argued in his opening remarks that the deceased was an adult able to make his own decisions.

Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci said Carrillo knew the deceased, Eric L. Sinacori, was taking heroin, yet took no action when Sinacori didn’t respond to multiple text messages.

Carrillo pleaded not guilty in October 2015 to involuntary manslaughter and distributing heroin. He allegedly provided “Tropicana” heroin to Sinacori, who was found dead from an overdose in his off-campus apartment at Puffton Village in Amherst on Oct. 4, 2013.

“You will conclude that Jesse was not a heroin dealer,” Carney, who has represented Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, among other high-profile clients, told the jury. “He was a heroin addict just like Eric and that the tragic result is something that has to be put at the feet of Eric — who is the one who is an adult, about the same age as Jesse — making his own decisions to obtain and use heroin, with the difference being that his result was tragic, but it is not something that can be put at the feet of Jesse Carrillo.”

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.

In his opening remarks, Bucci argued that Carrillo was the last person to see Sinacori alive and knew what he was up to and yet did not act.

The last communication Sinacori sent was 21 seconds after midnight, Bucci told the jury.

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“You see, just before midnight, Mr. Carrillo had gotten there and given him nine bags of Tropicana heroin,” Bucci said. “Seventeen minutes and 47 seconds later, after that last communication … Mr. Carrillo sent him a text message, ‘eh?’”

A few minutes after that message, Bucci told the jury Carrillo sent a second message asking how much “Tropicana” Sinacori drank.

“You will not hear that the defendant went back to that apartment to check. You will not hear that he called 911. You will not hear that he helped,” Bucci said. “You will be left with an unread text message received on Eric Sinacori’s phone asking ‘how much Tropicana did you drink?’

“You will be left knowing that the only person left on Earth that could have helped did nothing,” Bucci said.

Sinacori’s father, John Sinacori, was first to take the stand and detailed the events of Oct. 4, 2013 when he found his son dead in his off-campus apartment.

Sinacori had driven from his New Jersey home to Amherst to visit his son for parents weekend. He told the jury he had been in contact with his son on Oct. 3, the night before he was set to drive to Massachusetts, to let Eric know he would meet him after his last class the following day.

“I texted him that I was outside. Then I waited and I saw that the students were leaving the building and he wasn’t’ among them,” Sinacori said.

Getting no response from his son, Sinacori said he figured Eric missed the class or had gone to work. After getting lunch, he went to his son’s place of work and didn’t find him there either. Sinacori said he was able to get the building management to open the door to his son’s apartment.

There, Sinacori found his son lying in the doorway to the bathroom.

“I felt his skin, it felt cold. Discolored. At this point I was screaming for him hoping that I would wake him up but he was wedged in there where I couldn’t get in to see if he was OK,” Sinacori said.

Running outside to get his wife, a registered nurse, the couple returned and eventually got Eric Sinacori’s body out of the bathroom so CPR could be administered. Emergency responders were called but John Sinacori said when they arrived they didn’t do anything.

“I think they knew he was gone,” he said.

Prosecutors also called a former girlfriend of Carrillo who testified about the phone number Carrillo used and the type of car he drove. A third witness, Sgt. Richard McLean of the Amherst Police Department, detailed what Sinacori’s apartment looked like when McLean arrived the afternoon of Oct. 4, 2013. Using a series of pictures, McLean talked about the placement of Sinacori’s body in the apartment, the condition of the apartment, which showed no signs of a disturbance, as well as evidence of heroin, marijuana and pill use.

The commonwealth expect to call a medical examiner and a toxicologist as witnesses when the trial resumes Thursday morning. Carrillo is expected to takes the stand in his own defense.

Emily Cutts can be reached at