CHICAGO — John Galloway and Jake Czipo were friends and drug users — that much is clear. Each had been through treatment, but when they met at Czipo's Crystal Lake house on a spring night in 2017, neither appeared to be devoted to sobriety.
But that's where the clarity ends. Czipo used heroin and died that night. Galloway is being held criminally responsible.
That's because, according to McHenry County prosecutors, Galloway provided the drugs that claimed Czipo's life. It doesn't matter that Galloway allegedly got some for himself, too. It doesn't even matter that he called 911 when he saw that Czipo had stopped breathing.
Such is the paradox of Illinois' drug-induced homicide law. It's a measure that was created during the 1980s crack epidemic to go after major dealers, but critics say it's increasingly being wielded against those at the bottom of the distribution chain: addicts who simply share drugs with friends or intimate partners.
"We hear a lot of messages about treatment instead of incarceration, but as overdose death rates have increased, (authorities) have reverted to this knee-jerk reaction to punish people," said Lindsay LaSalle of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that is critical of the law.
Prosecutors statewide are bringing the charge with greater frequency, and Chicago's suburban counties are at the center of that push. While some cases appear to blur the line between victim and exploiter, authorities say justice and public safety demand a stern response.
"Even if you're an addict, once you cross that line and give it or sell it to someone, you become a dealer," said DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin, whose office investigates every overdose for possible criminal charges. "In my opinion, the law treats you differently."
"Big drug dealers"
As crack cocaine took hold in Chicago in the 1980s, Richard M. Daley, then the Cook County state's attorney, proposed tough new measures to clamp down on what he called "the most dangerous drug in this country."
Among them was a bill to create the offense of drug-induced homicide, holding dealers responsible for lives lost through the use of their products.
"This bill is a very good bill," Sen. Emil Jones Jr., D-Chicago, said during a legislative discussion in 1988. "It (gets) at the suppliers who are currently shielded from being prosecuted under our current law, and I personally prefer the death penalty. If we could amend the constitution to get it in there, I'd be pushing for that."
Jones, now retired from politics, said he didn't recall details of the bill's evolution, and Daley didn't respond to requests for comment. But former state Rep. John Countryman, R-DeKalb, who raised concerns about the bill's constitutionality before its passage, said he remembers being told it was aimed at "the big drug dealers."
The wording of the measure, though, allows it to snare small fry, too. It targets anyone suspected of "unlawfully delivering a controlled substance to another" when that substance causes death -- providing no guidance about what constitutes delivery.
Some defense attorneys have argued that the law, which comes with a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, is too vague, treating addicts who share their stash as though they're sinister kingpins. But the state's higher courts have upheld it at every turn, saying legislators intended a broad interpretation.
Illinois prosecutors didn't use the law much in its early years, but when overdose deaths began to climb dramatically in 2013 -- fueled, experts say, by the increasing use of powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl -- the charge became much more common.
Seth McClure, who wrote an analysis of the statute when he was a law student at Northern Illinois University, said one reason is that prosecutors can use the threat of a heavy sentence to persuade defendants to plead guilty to lesser charges.
"There's an increased tendency to charge to the maximum and sort it out later," said McClure, now an assistant public defender in Kane County. "Drug-induced homicide is the perfect charge for that. The consequences are severe, and it's an easy charge to prove. You just have to show the person delivered the drug, and that someone died."
Some prosecutors, though, rarely make deals. Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow has brought drug-induced homicide charges 15 times over the past five years, and only two people have pleaded guilty to lesser charges (six cases are pending).
Glasgow did not return calls seeking comment, but Will County's hard line sometimes comes down on people who don't appear to be drug dealers in any typical sense. One is Amy Shemberger, convicted of drug-induced homicide in 2015 after her boyfriend, Peter Kucinski, died of an overdose.
According to court testimony, Shemberger and another man brought back heroin from Chicago, and she gave some to Kucinski. When she saw that he had stopped breathing, she called 911 and started CPR, but he soon died.
Though Illinois has a good Samaritan law meant to shield users from prosecution when they report overdoses, it applies only to drug possession cases -- not drug-induced homicide.
Shemberger pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years in prison. The man who drove her into the city was found guilty, too, but an appellate court overturned the conviction earlier this year after the justices said there was no evidence he had shared his portion of the heroin.
Shemberger, meanwhile, still has two years until she's eligible for parole. She said in a phone interview from the Decatur Correctional Center that when she tells fellow inmates how she ended up behind bars, she gets the same reaction.
"People don't hear about this charge and say, 'I never want to dope again,'" she said. "They say, 'I'm not going to call 911 if my friend overdoses because I could get charged.' I'm not sure how they can look at this and think it's an effective way to stop overdoses. It's not."
Rare charge in Cook County
While prosecutors in the collar counties have gotten more aggressive about using the drug-induced homicide statute, that's not the case in Cook County.
Though the county sees more than 1,000 opioid overdoses a year, the state's attorney's office has brought the charge only a handful of times over the past decade. The only recent conviction came earlier this year, when a Midlothian man was found guilty after allegedly selling ecstasy to the daughter of a Chicago police officer.
The office said in a statement that its top priority is violent crime: "(We are) focused on treating drug addiction as a public health crisis by the use of our diversion programs and specialized courts."
That is no comfort to Amy Nawrocki. When her son Josh was found dead of heroin, fentanyl and benzodiazepine toxicity in his North Side apartment last year, she said, Chicago police gave the scene only a cursory review.
"They didn't treat it like a crime," she said. "They didn't take any evidence. They didn't take his cellphone. They didn't look at his social media. They didn't interview any suspects. They didn't do anything to investigate."
Chicago police said the incident was classified as a noncriminal death investigation. A spokesman did not respond to a question about the department's policy on pursuing drug-induced homicide charges.
Had Josh Nawrocki's death occurred in his hometown of Crystal Lake, his mother said, law enforcement would have had a different response. She is probably right: Since coming into office in 2016, McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally said he has brought drug-induced homicide charges far more often than his predecessor -- about 10 times a year.
He said the charge suits the idiosyncrasies of drug distribution in McHenry County, which last year had the highest fatal overdose rate of any county in the Chicago area.
People importing the drug there aren't profit-minded street gang members, Kenneally said, but addicts who fund their habits by buying the drug in Chicago, Waukegan or Rockford and reselling some at a small markup.
Going after them disrupts the county's heroin supply, he said. Regardless of their addiction, he said, they bear responsibility for any harm caused by the drugs they deliver.
"They're putting their own high above the health and safety of other people," he said. "They know this is venom. They know this kills people. To me, they need to be held accountable."
The Galloway case, though, illustrates the complexities of that quest for accountability.
John Galloway, now 21, grew up with visions of being a professional skateboarder, but when he entered high school, his family said, his main pastime became drugs -- first marijuana, then harder substances. He went to one rehab after another, but nothing helped for long (Galloway, who is in the McHenry County Jail awaiting trial, declined an interview request on his lawyer's advice).
His opioid use apparently started when he was about 18. His parents noticed he always wore long-sleeved shirts, even in the summer, and the household's metal spoons -- commonly used to heat heroin into an injectable liquid -- went missing.
As Galloway's habit deepened, he met Czipo, who lived a few blocks away. Czipo had been a marijuana user, but he told his mother, Rachel, that Galloway introduced him to heroin. Even so, their friendship appeared to be genuine.
While both men used drugs, police records suggest both occasionally sold them, too. Galloway is accused of selling small quantities of heroin in March 2017 (heavily redacted reports released by Crystal Lake police offer no details), and Rachel Czipo told police her son sometimes sold or traded Xanax bars pilfered from a family prescription.
Galloway was barred from the Czipos' home, but on the morning of May 18, 2017, Rachel Czipo found both men in the basement -- Galloway awake, her 20-year-old son snoring loudly. She left for work, not wanting to make a scene, but soon got an alert from a home security app that first responders were entering the house.
Galloway had called 911 just after 8 a.m. to report that Czipo was not breathing. Paramedics were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital from what the coroner determined to be the adverse effects of heroin.
It's unclear whether Galloway used heroin with Czipo that night. A police report says an officer noticed fresh needle marks on his arms, but Galloway claimed he injected cocaine and ecstasy. Police, however, said they found coded text and Facebook messages that suggested a different story.
"(It) appears as if John was going to purchase heroin for both of them and then come to Jacob's house immediately after purchasing the heroin," a narcotics specialist wrote.
Galloway was charged with drug-induced homicide after police found his laptop computer in Czipo's house, heroin and ecstasy allegedly stashed in its DVD drive (the legality of that seizure will be the subject of a court hearing later this month). He has pleaded not guilty.
On Friday, Galloway's family posted a petition to change.org, asking for signatures to "free John Galloway." It says a conviction and prison sentence will discourage drug users from calling 911 in case of an overdose.
Kenneally declined to speak about Galloway's case, but said the idea that drug-induced homicide prosecutions stop people from calling 911 "isn't credible."
In fact, he noted, McHenry County is on track for a big drop in opioid deaths this year, and he said the legal crackdown deserves some credit for the decline. Coroner Anne Majewski, though, attributed it to expanded distribution of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and increased efforts to get users into treatment.
As Galloway's prosecution continues, his family rejects the notion that he was a drug dealer, saying he was destitute after getting kicked out of the house. He and his friends simply took turns acquiring drugs, said his mother, Judy, a common arrangement among users.
"He loved Jake," she said. "He would not have wanted any of this harm to happen. It happened because they're addicts."
Rachel Czipo, meanwhile, is torn. She worries that Galloway could endanger other people if he is released and goes back to drugs. At the same time, she can see how the circumstances easily could have been reversed.
"(Galloway) can be held responsible for something, but I don't think it should be for Jake's death," she said. "If this were Jake in jail right now, I'd be saying the same thing."