ELYRIA — Heroin was the root cause of a 2013 tragedy that ultimately swept three families along a vicious road that ended Monday when a jury found a 27-year-old man guilty of three charges in the death of Jeffrey Brooks.
Sentencing is 1 p.m. April 26 for Nick Masley after a jury found him guilty of a third-degree felony charge of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of misdemeanor assault.
Brooks died in December 2013, two days after Masley hit him at 183 Delaware Circle in Elyria.
The original indictment against Masley charged him with murder and felonious assault in connection with the death of the Wellington man. While the state contends Masley intentionally lured Brooks to the residence, defense attorney Kenneth Lieux said Masley wanted to find out what was going on with his cousin, Kayla Ellis, who was engaged to Brooks.
Lieux said Masley suspected Brooks had gotten Ellis, 24, addicted to heroin.
The weeklong trial included testimony from a doctor who said the brain swelling that killed Brooks was not caused by the physical trauma of getting punched in the face and hitting his head but rather from the use of heroin. Dr. Werner Spitz is a renowned medical examiner who testified for the defense.
It was a brutal trial to witness from start to finish, said Gaylord Gunder, Brooks’ stepfather. The verdict did nothing to bring closure to the family, who did not shy away from discussing Brooks’ addiction.
“It took a long time for this to come to a head,” he said. “I don’t know what was going on. I used to be a part of the county. I worked for the county. I was proud to be a county employee. I have retired from the county and I am totally disappointed with the judicial system, the way it is operating in some situations. And, this right here shows what is going on.”
Gunder praised the prosecutor’s office and victims’ advocates that worked for and with his family. However, he questions the court system for dropping the ball in his stepson’s case.
“This is not the first time that something like this has happened,” he said. “Unless things change, they will continue to be upside down. A person cannot take another person’s life and get by with the bare minimum. I am not saying he should have got the death penalty, but he should have sat inside of a cell a lot longer than what he is going to get. The only thing my wife and I have to hold on to is that this judge will have a heart and the almighty creator will help get some justice for my son.”
Brooks’ mother, Christen Gunder, said Masley deserved to be found guilty of a higher felony.
“He should have at least received (a first-degree felony) in any category,” she said. “The (third-degree felony) is the bare minimum in my eyes. He led to my son’s death. He took away from his cousin, and he said he was out to help her, but he didn’t help her. I think he was out to revenge his brother’s death.”
Masley’s brother died of a heroin overdose about a year prior to Brooks’ death.
Lieux said he was satisfied with the verdict, which carries a possible sentence of up to five years in prison. Probation also is a possibility, he said.
“I was pleased with the verdict. I think what I felt the evidence showed is that Nick’s act of punching him was just an assault, a simple assault,” he said. “He did not act with intent to cause serious physical harm, and the verdict bears that out. Unfortunately, by the verdict, the jury felt the death was one of the approximate results of the assault so that’s why they found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter. I certainly respect the verdict of the jury in that regard.”
There was one thing both the Gunders and Lieux did not dispute: Heroin is the true evil in this case that tied all the families together.
“He had demons. We know what those demons were, but everyone has some kind of a demon,” Gaylord Gunder said. “Most people overcome it, but in these circumstances it was so severe. We were trying with him and his girlfriend. They were living at our house. We had a hard time trying to find a system that would take him in and help him get healthy.”
Christen Gunder said her son felt discouraged by a local treatment facility that wanted payment up front.
“He wanted treatment,” she said. “He went and talked to his friend who was a supervisor at A Road to Hope and said ‘Kevin, I need help.’ ”
Lieux said there still are unanswered questions.
“Opioids are the root of this case for sure in a number of respects,” he said. “One question that is still unanswered is who sold Jeff Brooks the drugs and what efforts have been made to locate them and charge them. That is a question that bears answers. Until they get the dealers — that’s a good place to start.”
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