Geneva woman sentenced in fatal drug overdose

Marisa A. Leffel (right) appears in county Common Pleas Court Thursday alongside public defenders Marie Lane and Margaret Brunarski (not pictured) for sentencing on an involuntary manslaughter charge. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the death of Eric S. Andrus, of Geneva, who fatally overdosed in January 2016 on drugs sold to him by Leffel and her codefendant, Shawnna N. Spurlock, also of Geneva. Spurlock took a plea deal earlier this year and was sentenced to four years.

JEFFERSON — A Geneva woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison for supplying the drugs on which a Geneva man fatally overdosed in early 2016.

Following a three-day trial in August, a jury took a little more than two hours to find Marisa A. Leffel, 25, of Geneva, guilty on all charges in the overdose death of Eric S. Andrus on Jan. 12, 2016. The case marked the first time a county jury has convicted a drug dealer in a fatal overdose.

Leffel appeared for sentencing Thursday morning before Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court Judge Marianne Sezon.

Her six convictions included three first-degree felony counts of involuntary manslaughter; one second-degree felony count of corrupting another with drugs; one fifth-degree felony count of aggravated trafficking in drugs; and one fifth-degree felony count of trafficking in heroin. All merged into one count of involuntary manslaughter for sentencing purposes.

Her 10-year sentence is not mandatory, and could be reduced for good behavior. She will face a following five years of probation. She was also credited for 64 days already spent in jail.

County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci requested the court impose the maximum 11-year prison term, but later told the Star Beacon he was “pleased with the sentence.”

Leffel’s criminal record shows multiple run-ins with the law dating back to 2009, when Leffel was a juvenile. When she was arrested and charged in Andrus’ death in 2016, she was still on probation for a May 2012 drug conviction in Lake County Common Pleas Court. She was immediately sentenced to 20 months in prison for violating probation.

Records show Leffel had also completed the state’s Northeast Ohio Community Alternative Program, to rehabilitate drug offenders.

“This offender has not responded favorably to sanctions previously imposed,” Iarocci told the court Thursday. “(She) has not responded at all to the parole officer or treatment that had been provided to her.”

Iarocci said Leffel “has shown absolutely no genuine remorse” for Andrus’ death. He cited phone calls recorded during Leffel’s imprisonment — which were not entered into evidence for trial — in which he said Leffel used “vulgar” language in regards to Andrus and his family.

In court, Andrus’ mother Susan Andrus maintained her composure while reading a statement on coping with the loss of her son, and reliving her personal “nightmare” during the trial. She urged the community to take responsibility in combating the opioid epidemic.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss Eric terribly,” she said. “Two years in, I know I’ll feel the same way every day for the rest of my life.”

She added Leffel should be “grateful” to the convicting jury for saving her life from opioid addiction. 

“Prison is her own chance for survival,” she said.

Leffel declined to make a statement.

Her codefendant Shawnna N. Spurlock, also of Geneva, took a plea deal earlier this year and testified against Leffel at trial, in exchange for reduced charges. She was sentenced to four years on one second-degree felony count of corrupting another with drugs.

“They had the right girl the first time,” Leffel’s father Tim — who declined to give his last name — told the Star Beacon following the hearing. “My daughter had been clean for three years until Shawnna came in the picture.

“They had absolutely nothing on my daughter until they coerced (Spurlock),” he continued. “I know she is (taking the fall). She’s doing more time, when Shawnna was actually the one doing the dealing.”

Iarocci said though Spurlock introduced Andrus to Leffel, evidence showed Leffel assumed communication with Andrus for drug deals.

During the hearing, Sezon acknowledged the disparity in sentence lengths between the codefendants, adding Spurlock cooperated with the state’s case and expressed she was “deeply, deeply sorry” for Andrus’ death, while Leffel had not shown “genuine remorse.”

Spurlock also told prosecutors she had stopped abusing drugs until she met Leffel, Iarocci said. He added Spurlock testified she and Leffel ingested some of the drugs they sold to Andrus soon after.

Iarocci said the daylong jury selection process for Leffel’s trial was one of the “most powerful” he’s ever been through. Among the pool of 70 potential jurors, few had not been affected in some way by the county’s drug epidemic. Many were excused because of their experiences, which could create bias, he said.

The case that led to Spurlock’s and Leffel’s indictments marked the second time a suspected county drug dealer was faced with manslaughter charges after an overdose death. Audrey M. McConkey of Ashtabula was indicted in May 2016 for selling Fentanyl-laced heroin to her former boyfriend, Michael Manis, who fatally overdosed soon after. She was sentenced in April to eight years in prison.

Earlier this month, the county grand jury handed down two new drug-death indictments against John E. Nosse III, and Jamie L. Clay, both of Ashtabula, for the death of Melissa Wheeler, of Ashtabula. During police interviews, Clay admitted to being a “major distributor” of heroin in the Ashtabula area, and had been active in the county’s drug court program for nonviolent offenders.

“We’ve got a number of these manslaughter cases in the pipeline that, if we haven’t

already charged,

we’re going to charge,” Iarocci said Thursday. “And we’re going to be aggressively prosecuting.”