Crime & Courts

Zion man found guilty of drug-induced homicide in Algonquin woman's death

James F. Linder
James F. Linder

WOODSTOCK – Jurors found a Zion man guilty on Friday of the drug-induced homicide of 21-year-old Danielle Barzyk.

Jurors found that James F. Linder sold more than one gram of heroin to Barzyk’s boyfriend, Cody N. Hillier, on Jan. 30, 2015, in Zion. The couple returned to Algonquin and used the drugs at least three times, and just after 1 a.m. Barzyk told Hillier she was having trouble breathing and needed medical attention.

Hillier and Barzyk met at a local rehabilitation facility in July 2014 and started dating. Hillier, who took the stand this week, said he and Barzyk relapsed in November 2014 and continued daily usage.

When police arrived at the scene, they asked Hillier whether Barzyk had taken anything, and he said she was having an asthma attack. He later told responding officers and emergency personnel that she had taken Vicodin.

Barzyk was taken to Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, where she was pronounced dead.

Hillier agreed to work with the North Central Narcotics Task force and bought additional heroin from Linder in a controlled narcotics transaction at a Wal-Mart in Zion. Linder was pulled over after the alleged drug deal, and officers located the money Hillier was given to buy the drugs, his wallet, a cellphone and additional cash. Linder was arrested and has since been held in the McHenry County Jail.

Hillier previously pleaded guilty in May to unlawful possession and delivery of a controlled substance in this case and was sentenced to probation. He was rearrested in October after violating the terms of his probation.

The jury began deliberations shortly before 11:30 a.m. Friday and returned with a verdict about two hours later.

During closing arguments, Assistant State’s Attorney Randi Freese asked the jury to hold the defendant accountable.

“He profited and preyed on the addiction and disease of Danielle and Cody,” Freese said.

Freese said prosecutors proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt because they were able to show that Linder knowingly delivered heroin to Hillier, that the heroin was at least one gram or more, that Barzyk inhaled the heroin and that Barzyk died as a result of the inhalation.

Freese said the most convincing evidence in the case against Linder came from his cellphone, which was taken from the defendant when he was arrested. The text messages documented conversations between Hillier and Linder regarding the two heroin purchases. There also were recorded phone calls between the two from Jan. 31, 2015, when Hillier was working with undercover officers.

Freese said there was no doubt that Barzyk died of a heroin overdose based on testimony from two forensic pathologists who took the stand this week.

“What happened to Danielle could have just as easily happened to Cody. They both used the heroin. … One died; one lived,” Freese said.

Mitra Kalelkar and Hillary McElligott, who testified for the prosecution and defense, respectively, generally agreed Barzyk’s primary cause of death was a narcotics overdose.

Kalelkar conducted Barzyk’s autopsy days after she died and examined a toxicology report prepared when coming to her conclusion of how Barzyk died. She said Barzyk’s lungs were heavier than normal from a significant amount of fluid and congestion, something she commonly sees in patients who overdose or drown.

She also said she was aware of Barzyk’s history of asthma, but did not believe it was what caused her death.

Hank Sugden, Linder’s attorney, said in closing arguments that prosecutors did not prove Linder delivered heroin to Hillier nor did they prove Barzyk died of a heroin overdose. Sugden said Barzyk and Hillier were both addicts who were aware of the danger of drugs.

Sugden said, referencing Freese’s prior statement, that Hillier lived and Barzyk died not because she overdosed but because of the fact that she had an asthma attack. That was the major difference between the two, he said.

McElligott said while she agreed the primary cause of death was related to a heroin overdose, she believed asthma was a major contributing factor. She said someone who is overdosing will appear as though they are falling asleep or passing out, but someone experiencing a severe asthma attack is more likely to gasp for air and be aware they are not breathing properly.

Sugden also said prosecutors were unable to prove the heroin sold Jan. 30 was the same as the heroin sold Jan. 31, and could have done so through further testing.

In response to Sugden’s statement about quality control, Assistant State’s Attorney John Gibbons said it would have been nearly impossible to do comparative testing because heroin dealers almost always have different product. He said that fact is proven when Linder told Hillier in a recorded phone call that he didn’t have the same stuff as Jan. 30 but had different product he could sell to him.

Linder faces 15 to 30 years in prison. Based on previous convictions, he could receive an extended sentence that would result in 30 to 60 years in prison.

He will remain in the McHenry County Jail without bond until his sentencing Feb. 24.

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