A drug dealer, acting as his own attorney against charges he sold fentanyl-laced heroin to a Wadsworth man, claimed court workers lost his records causing prosecutors to violate his speedy trial rights.
A judge agreed, and has now dismissed manslaughter and drug charges against LeTroy Vaughn of Akron.
Summit County prosecutors do not intend to appeal the decision and Vaughn cannot be tried for the September 2015 death of Eric Ward.
“I guess in my head I understand. In my heart, not so much," said Ward’s mother, Kelly Woolsey. “Honestly, I hope that when or if [Vaughn] has children, he realizes the pain and agony that he has caused our family and probably many others."
Ward, 25, was found dead Sept. 27, 2015 in his pickup truck outside a McDonald’s on Copley Road in Akron.
Just a month earlier, he had confided his addiction to his mother.
Police allege Vaughn sold Ward heroin containing fentanyl, a powerful painkiller.
In recent years, Summit County prosecutors have brought manslaughter and other charges against dozens of drug dealers whose opioid customers have overdosed on heroin or cut with hardcore fillers such as fentanyl or carfentanil.
Vaughn was on track to be another such defendant until documents he signed and returned to the Akron Municipal Court were misplaced, apparently by a long-time court worker.
Vaughn was charged by Akron prosecutors with involuntary manslaughter, drug trafficking and corrupting another with drugs. The felony charges carried a combined potential prison sentence of 19 years.
Vaughn, 26, was imprisoned on an unrelated drug case at the Belmont Correctional Institution when he was served with the new charges in April 2016.
In response, Vaughn, with the assistance of a prison official, mailed separate letters to the Akron Municipal Court and city prosecutors requesting the new charges be brought to trial within the 180-day limit.
On May 2, 2016, the court worker signed for the certified letters from Vaughn. That was the last time the letters were seen. No one is sure what happened to the documents, or how they came to be lost.
Prosecutors, however, indicted Vaughn the following February.
In July, Vaughn typed his own court motion, asking Common Pleas Judge Christine Croce to dismiss the indictment. He argued prosecutors violated his Constitutional right to a speedy trial.
Attorney Kani Hightower then joined in Vaughn’s defense, filing another motion and setting up a hearing.
Vaughn’s attorney said the case is unusual, and sure to anger some observers. However, she said, the judge made the appropriate decision.
"I understand that there can be people upset and could be disappointed with it, but understand this is our constitution in true form working for us,” Hightower said.
Prosecutors initially argued that while it was clear from receipts that Vaughn mailed two letters, it was unclear what the envelopes contained. However, during a evidentiary hearing, a prison official testified that all such documents sent from the prison were electronically copied.
Nonetheless, prosecutors argued that the state should not be responsible for the errors of a court clerk.
The judge ruled last week that county prosecutors “could not have taken any action to avoid the ultimate result.” However, Croce found the case could not go forward because of the speedy trial violation.
“Since the defendant was not brought to trial within the time provided…the indictment is therefore void,” Croce wrote. “This matter is dismissed with prejudice.”
Prosecutors say they are disappointed by the conclusion.
“We work hard to see that justice occurs for all victims,” said assistant prosecutor Brad Gessner. “We are not happy that this case was required to be dismissed under the law. Fortunately, this does not affect the sentence of 5 years in prison Mr. Vaughn is currently serving.”