New trial ordered in McHenry heroin overdose death
An appellate court panel has ordered a new trial for a 29-year-old woman convicted of giving a fatal dose of heroin to a man who was found dead in June 2009 in a McHenry motel.
Amanda K. Coots, 29, of Wauconda, was convicted in spring 2010 of drug-induced homicide of Rustin A. Cawthon, 36, of McHenry, whose body was found by a cleaning lady on June, 7, 2009, at a Super 8 in McHenry.
Coots was sentenced to 10 years in prison and, as of Friday, was still being held at the downstate Dwight Correctional Center, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
An appellate court panel reversed the conviction against Coots, saying she was denied a fair trial. The panel said defense attorney Colin MacMeekin was ineffective because he did not ask the trial court to answer a question posed by the jury whether Coots "handing" the heroin to Cawthon was the same as "delivering" it to him.
"The jury asked whether 'delivery' could mean 'give.' Thus, not only was the jury confused about a question of law, but it was at least entertaining the belief that defendant could be found guilty for doing no more than handing heroin to Cawthon," wrote the appellate panel in its ruling. "The danger that the jury might have believed that it could find that defendant 'delivered' the fatal heroin to Cawthon merely by handing it to him denied defendant a fair trial."
During Coots' trial, prosecutors argued that Coots gave Cawthon a second bag of heroin after he complained he wasn't high from the first one and Cawthon shot up heroin using Coots' needle. When it appeared that he overdosed, Coots went home and did not call authorities for help, prosecutors argued.
Her defense was that Cawthon used his money to buy the drugs and six weeks before the overdose he made suicidal comments and indicated he had previously tried to kill himself by a heroin overdose. MacMeekin also argued that Coots was just a low-level user, not a major heroin supplier.
MacMeekin did not return a phone message.
Michael Combs, chief of the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office's Criminal Division, said the state's appellate prosecutor's office has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court. If not, McHenry prosecutors plan to move forward on the case, Combs said.
"Our position is we will retry the case," he said. "We're always disappointed when a case comes back from the appellate court. We accept their ruling."
No new date has been set for Coots to appear in McHenry County court in Woodstock.