The man found guilty of dealing in a controlled substance resulting in death and trafficking with an inmate while incarcerated in the Kosciusko County Jail was sentenced Friday to 40 years in the Indiana Department of Corrections.
Kosciusko Circuit Court Judge Mike Reed gave Christopher Aaron Susaraba, 31, of Mishawaka, 30 years in the IDOC for the Level 1 felony charge of dealing in a controlled substance resulting in death. Reed didn’t give Susaraba a separate sentence for the Level 5 felony trafficking with an inmate as it merges with the Level 1 felony, but did enhance the sentence by 10 years because of Susaraba’s habitual offender status. The sentence Friday is to be served consecutive to another case that Susaraba had been on probation for but violated that probation.
Reed also ordered Susaraba to pay court costs and a $200 drug interdiction fee. Susaraba was given 762 days of jail time credit for time already served.
As Susaraba plans to appeal, Reed appointed attorney Everett Newman to represent him. Newman served as Susaraba’s legal counsel in the inmate death case.
A jury took three hours June 10 to find Susaraba guilty of both charges. The trial took three days, with KCJ inmates testifying about drug use in the jail and that Susaraba was known as a tattoo artist, though tattooing isn’t allowed in the jail. The state’s case was that there weren’t any drugs in the K block until after Susaraba arrived and was housed in there.
The case stems from a March 9, 2019, incident in the jail when jail officers found Dennis McCrory unresponsive in the K block at the jail. McCrory was pronounced dead due to acute drug intoxication, and toxicology results showed McCrory had methamphetamine and narcotic drugs in his system, according to court papers.
Several witnesses are alleged to have told police that Susaraba was dealing meth and heroin to inmates in exchange for money, and there was some discussion that the amount of drugs given to McCrory were too large and dangerous.
A jury was called March 9 to Circuit Court, however, before the jury was seated, Kosciusko County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Buehler asked Reed for a continuance, citing the state’s lack of preparation subpoenaing witnesses to testify.
Susaraba’s attorneys, J. Everett and Helen Newman, argued just because the state was unprepared and it will be damaging to their case, it doesn’t qualify as a statutory reason to continue the trial.
Reed agreed and denied the continuance request, causing prosecutors to dismiss the case and immediately refile charges to buy more time.
Susaraba was held at KCJ since his arrest.
In court proceedings Friday, Buehler talked about Susaraba’s lengthy criminal background, including five prior felony convictions besides the two that were noted in Susaraba’s presentence investigation report – felony convictions for burglary and dealing methamphetamine.
Buehler also brought up a case pending against Susaraba in St. Joe County. According to court documents in that case, on or about Dec. 24, 2017, South Bend Fire and Police departments were called to the community corrections facility Ducomb Center, South Bend, regarding an unresponsive man. Medics located in a dormitory the man, later identified as Cody Woody, who was unresponsive. All attempts to revive Woody failed and he was declared dead at the scene. Several inmates residing in Dormitory D at the time of Wood’s death were interviewed, including Susaraba and Alexander Traxler. On Dec. 26, 2017, Traxler told law enforcement that Woody got “dope,” believed to be heroin, from Susaraba and the three men used the drug together. Susaraba denied having anything to do with Woody having drugs and blamed Traxler. Traxler and Susaraba face the same charges in that case.
Buehler said that while Susaraba had the two cases involving the deaths of other inmates pending against him, Susaraba conspired with other inmates to bring controlled substances into the jail.
Susaraba was 19 when he received his first felony, Buehler said, and is 31 today. He said Susaraba has eight felonies, four misdemeanors and a pending case against him. Buehler told Reed there are no mitigating factors in the case before him Friday.
Newman told Reed there was no evidence that Susaraba contemplated to harm anyone. He noted then that Susaraba planned to appeal, and that in the St. Joe case, Susaraba has not been convicted and that case can not be used against him as an aggravating factor, which Reed later agreed to.
The goal of the Indiana Constitution, Newman said, is that it says, “You did this and this is what we think needs to be done to reform you.” He said Susaraba’s substance abuse issues can be addressed, and asked Reed to sentence Susaraba to less than the advised sentence.
When Reed asked Susaraba if he had anything to say, Susaraba said, “I’ll take what you give me and make better of myself while I’m down there.”
Reed said he always finds cases like this difficult to decide when there is such seriousness to them. He didn’t know what the penalty should be, but the state legislature provides advisements, which include 20 to 40 years for the Level 1 felony.
Reed said the state pointed out Susaraba has a “terrible” history, but who is responsible for that? Newman would lead Reed to believe it’s society and the system, Reed said. But Susaraba is the responsible party, Reed continued.
“I never heard you say you were sorry a man died,” Reed said. “That disturbs me a lot.”