Two urns sit on a shelf, symbols of the heroin plague that has struck the Pauley home in Brook Park.
One urn holds the ashes of Matthew Pauley, who died in September 18, 2015. He was 29.
The other contains the ashes of James Pauley, who died on December 11, 2016. He was 23.
Both men were found dead in their bedrooms by their grandmother, Paula Pauley.
“Misery. Every day. The pain, the misery,” the grandmother said. "There he was hugging and kissing you goodnight. Next thing you know, I'm trying to wake him up and he's gone."
The family found some solace in the 5-year prison term handed the dealer who sold Matthew Tallentire his fatal overdose.
They’ve found no solace, they said, in plea deal struck by federal prosecutors with the twice-convicted drug dealer who sold heroin laced with fentanyl to James Pauley.
Marcus Womack was indicted in U.S. District Court in Akron and faced a maximum 20-year prison sentence for selling heroin to James Pauley. At the time, Womack was on probation in state and federal courts for drug and weapons charges.
But Womack ultimately reached a plea deal with U.S. attorneys and was sentenced 21 months in prison by Judge Sara Lioi.
He was not charged, U.S. attorneys said, with James Pauley’s death because toxicology tests showed cocaine, in addition to heroin and fentanyl, in his system.
Despite his prior convictions, dating back to 2008, U.S. attorneys labeled Womack a low-level street dealer. And because of the presence of cocaine, it was not possible to prove Womack’s heroin and fentanyl solely caused James Pauley’s death.
“Given those facts, we sought a prison sentence at the high end of the federal sentencing guidelines for Womack’s crime. While this does not bring back Mr. Pauley or ease his family’s grief, we believe it makes our community safer and was an appropriate sentence, given the evidence available to us,” spokesman Mike Tobin said in a statement.
That decision frustrates the still-grieving Pauley’s family.
"I was very upset and very angry. Then very hurt that the justice system does not work sometimes," said James’ mother, Tammy Pauley.
The family has not stopped. They have contacted Cuyahoga County prosecutors hoping they take on Womack’s case and pursue manslaughter charges.
“It’s the heroin and fentanyl that’s killing people,” Paula Pauley said.
She also believes U.S. attorneys should have taken a harder stance against Womack for his history of drug dealing.
"He's got a rap sheet - you see it - a mile long and yet nothing," said Paula Pauley.
Kani Hightower, a University of Akron adjunct professor of law, said there’s nothing preventing county prosecutors from pursuing charges against Womack.
"Double jeopardy would not apply because they were not charged with manslaughter in federal court," she said.
County prosecutors have yet to comment.
Tammy Pauley believes her youngest son carried the guilt for introducing heroin to his older brother. James Pauley battled his addiction for three years before succumbing.
“He took it really hard, really, really hard, for a really long time,” she said.
In the year that’s followed, the family maintains a shrine of sorts to Matthew and James in an upstairs bedroom. Their childhood mementos adorn the walls. A Christmas tree shines by the window.
"I wouldn't want this to happen to anybody else,” Tammy Pauley said. she said. “To go through the pain of losing your child and the person who does this gets a slap on the wrist."
READ: Here is the entire statement U.S. Attorneys gave WKYC Channel 3 regarding the Pauley case.
“Our hearts go out to the friends and family of James Pauley. As we do in every case, we worked with our law enforcement partners to develop sufficient evidence to support a sufficient sentence. That evidence included the facts that Mr. Pauley died from a mix of fentanyl, heroin and cocaine – and that Marcus Womack sold him the opioids, but not the cocaine. This prevented us from proving, as we must, that the drugs sold by Marcus Womack was the sole cause of Mr. Pauley’s death. Given those facts, we sought a prison sentence at the high end of the federal sentencing guidelines for Womack’s crime. While this does not bring back Mr. Pauley or ease his family’s grief, we believe it makes our community safer and was an appropriate sentence, given the evidence available to us.
Our office remains committed to seeking long prison sentences for those who sell the drugs that kill our relatives, friends and neighbors. We helped develop an investigative protocol used at the scene of drug overdoses that has been hailed as a national model. In cases where we could prove which drug killed the victim and who sold that drug, we have sought additional penalties, with an average sentence of more than 14 years in prison.
Aggressive enforcement is the cornerstone of our efforts to combating the opioid epidemic that has caused so much devastation here in Northeast Ohio and across the country. “