The trial for a Fort Atkinson man charged with providing the heroin that led to overdose death of his nephew in 2014 began in Jefferson County Court Wednesday.
Kurt Gutermuth, 46, faces charges of first-degree reckless homicide by delivery of drugs, possession of narcotic drugs and two counts of manufacture or deliver schedule IV drugs. The homicide charge stems from the April 8, 2014 overdose death of Daniel Belleau, 21 of Fort Atkinson.
Gutermuth waived his right to a jury trial electing to have a court trial in front of Judge Randy Koschnick.
The State, represented by Assistant District Attorney Monica Hall laid out the State's case to Judge Koschnick in an opening statement. Hall gave a descriptive timeline of the events that led to Belleau's overdose. That timeline includes Belleau and his roommate Zachariah Johnson collecting cans to take to a recycling center for cash, using that cash to purchase Xanax from Gutermuth at the apartment in which he was living, lines of heroin allegedly provided by Gutermuth that were snorted by Belleau and Johnson, the degradation of Belleau's health and eventual death.
The defense, led by Stephen Kramer, countered by telling the Court this case includes a "laundry list" of people involved, a "phone book" of text messages and a ton of evidence. All of that evidence, according to the defense boils down to Johnson and two of his friends. One, Belleau was allowed to die in order for Johnson to escape responsibility. The other friend, Gutermuth, was framed by Johnson for the same reason.
Judge Koschnick heard testimony from Matthew Richardson, another roommate of Belleau's who was at work when the two men acquired drugs. According to his testimony he received a phone call from Johnson between midnight and 1 a.m. who was concerned over Belleau's health and labored breathing. Richardson advised Johnson to call 911. Johnson did not do so and when Richardson returned home around 9:30 a.m., he found Belleau deceased.
Thomas Witte, also known as Pa, took the stand after Richardson. Witte was the owner of the house that Belleau, Johnson and Richardson lived in at the time of Belleau's death. However, Witte seemed to have problems recalling the events of the day and night Belleau overdosed during his testimony.
Johnson took the stand to begin the afternoon. Likely one of the State's most important witnesses, Johnson was granted immunity for his testimony so none of his statements can be used against him in the future unless he is found to have lied on the stand.
Hall took Johnson through the timeline of events beginning on April 7. Johnson indicated he and Belleau gathered up aluminum cans and Witte took the two to a recycling center in Fort Atkinson to turn them in for change. At some point after returning to their home, Belleau and Johnson left for Gutermuth's to purchase Xanax, a buy which was set up by Johnson.
The two purchased 4-5 Xanax pills with the money they received from the recycling center. Johnson said he saw Belleau take one orally within a short time frame. Around the same time, Johnson went to the restroom, crushed and snorted his two Xanax pills. Upon his return to the kitchen where Gutermuth and Belleau were, Johnson said he saw Belleau clearing his nose and was told by Belleau that he had just snorted heroin. It is important to note that Johnson said he never actually saw Gutermuth produce the heroin or Belleau snorting it.
Gutermuth then offered Johnson a line of heroin according to his testimony. After having said no earlier, Johnson said he did the heroin because of "peer pressure". The two remained at Gutermuth's for less than an hour before returning to their residence.
On the return home, Johnson said Belleau began having problems walking and eventually was forced to carry him back to the house. When they returned, Johnson said he helped Belleau to his room and into his bed where Johnson remained to play video games for approximately an hour.
Johnson testified that he was concerned about Belleau, that his breathing became labored and he was wheezing. Johnson contacted several friends who all told him to call 911 or take Belleau to a hospital. He failed to do either and instead said he went to bed.
Johnson testified that the next thing he remembered, Richardson was waking him up saying Belleau had died. He said he did not call police, 911 or anyone for help because he was scared he might get into trouble.
However, upon cross examination, Johnson was unable to recall conversations with certain people during the night Belleau died or that he had helped Belleau into the bathroom to throw up as Witte testified to. He also indicated he had called his mother before calling 911 after being told Belleau had died.
Johnson admitted that he lied during the 911 call and to police when he was first interviewed stating that he was not with Belleau that night and that he asked Witte to lie to authorities initially.
Within weeks of Belleau's death, Johnson obtained an attorney and did not speak with police until 19 months after the incident, at which point he admitted having gotten heroin from Gutermuth the night Belleau died.
Johnson told the Court he felt sufficiently protected by an agreement with the state not to prosecute him to tell the truth. He maintained on the stand that the heroin came from Gutermuth.
Fort Atkinson Police Officer Dan Hefty also took the stand to testify to his interaction with Gutermuth on April 9, 2014. Hefty had responded to reports of two suspicious persons and found Gutermuth, admittedly upset and crying over the death of his nephew, Belleau. Hefty said Gutermuth did not seem intoxicated during this approximated 10 minute interaction before another officer took him home.
Former Fort Atkinson Detective Eric Brown wrapped up testimony Wednesday. As one of the first responding officers to the 911 call reporting Belleau's overdose, Brown noted he could tell Belleau was deceased as rigor mortis had begun to set in, he was cold to the touch and had no vital signs. Brown testified to the interviews he conducted with Johnson and Witte that morning and subsequent follow up interviews with both. During a second interview with Witte, Richardson came to the house and produced a note that was written by Johnson the night Belleau passed away. On that note, Johnson asked Richardson to wake him up when he got home, "it's important". Richardson found the note on his bed after he had found Belleau dead in the room across the hall.
Judge Koschnick will listen to audio-recorded interviews authorities conducted with Johnson and Gutermuth in open court Thursday morning. After the completion of these recordings, ADA Hall will continue presenting the State's case. Testimony from the medical examiner, Elizabeth Wilson, the woman with whom Gutermuth was living at the time of the incident, and additional law enforcement personnel is expected tomorrow.