Judge rejects Chicago mom’s request to reclassify daughter’s death ‘drug-induced homicide’

Judge rejects Chicago mom’s request to reclassify daughter’s death ‘drug-induced homicide’

Valerie Teper, 33, died of a drug overdose in 2016 in Chicago. | Provided

Assistant State’s Attorney Silvia Mercado argued medical examiner had ‘no duty to enforce’ Illinois’ drug-induced homicide law. ‘Murder is murder!’ angry mother said.

A Cook County judge has rejected a mother’s request to order her daughter’s overdose death reclassified as a drug-induced homicide rather than an accident.

Judge Sanjay Tailor said Tuesday that granting Irene Rodik’s request regarding her 33-year-old daughter Valerie Teper’s death in late 2016 would turn the Cook County medical examiner’s office into a “super prosecutor of sorts.”

The judge said he also was concerned that granting Rodik’s request would create a “slippery slope” that might force the medical examiner to have to reclassify thousands of drug-overdose deaths as homicides.

The medical examiner has discretion to classify the manner of a death as its pathologists see fit based on autopsy and toxicology results, Tailor said.

Rodik was angry at the ruling.

“Murder is murder!” she said as she left Tailor’s Daley Center courtroom.

Her husband, attorney Terry Slaw, represented her and said she’ll appeal.

Announcing his ruling, Tailor said, “Maybe the appeals court will disagree with me.”

Teper, found dead in her apartment in the 1900 block of West Belmont Avenue on the North Side in late 2016, died of poisoning from fentanyl, an autopsy found.

Slaw unsuccessfully argued that, under Illinois’ drug-induced homicide law, the medical examiner had no discretion to call the manner of Teper’s death anything but homicide.

“I don’t believe there’s any leeway here,” Slaw said.

Read Sun-Times’ March 8, 2020, report here
Read Sun-Times’ March 8, 2020, report here

The law defines drug-induced homicide as any death that results from someone providing illegal drugs to another person who dies from injecting, inhaling or ingesting it.

The judge said the medical examiner shouldn’t have to determine the intent of the person who provided the drugs to the person who overdosed.

But Illinois law doesn’t require police and prosecutors to determine what the intent was of the person who provides drugs that prove to be fatal, Slaw said.

He said the medical examiner “rubberstamps” most fatal overdoses as accidents.

Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Silvia Mercado, representing the medical examiner’s office, said the medical examiner had “no duty to enforce” the drug-induced homicide law.

“There is no clear right to have the death certificate changed,” Mercado argued.

The Chicago police couldn’t directly link the drug Teper took to a particular dealer, according to a police department source.

A Chicago Sun-Times review, published Sunday, of prosecutions of drug-induced homicides in Cook County found one case in which the medical examiner classified a drug-related death as homicide. In that case, police say a Chicago woman injected a man with heroin, and he died. She was charged with drug-induced homicide, but records show the case was later dropped.

The other deaths were deemed accidental.

Cook County prosecutors rarely file drug-induced homicide charges in fatal overdoses. In the past decade, just two cases in Chicago and six in the Cook County suburbs were approved by prosecutors.

The collar counties have been more aggressive in pursuing such charges.

The Chicago police are considering creating a task force to pursue more cases as drug-induced homicides.

Terry Slaw and Irene Rodik at a demonstration in May 2019 in Millennium Park calling for enforcement of the state’s drug-induced homicide law.Provided
Terry Slaw and Irene Rodik at a demonstration last May in Millennium Park calling for enforcement of the state’s drug-induced homicide law.

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