FRANKLIN COUNTY — A grand jury worked hard the last two years to change attitudes toward drug addiction while targeting the illegal drug trade, according to a report released this
Members of the 2017 Investigating Grand Jury were impaneled February 9, 2017, working through January 18 this year. Jurors heard testimony and reviewed evidence related to a number of ongoing Franklin County criminal investigations.
Most of those cases were related to the opioid crisis and drug trafficking in the county. Of 19 cases in which the grand jury recommended charges being filed, 16 involved drug overdoses.
As a result, 26 individuals have been charged, including a significant number of drug dealers.
“Our cases primarily involved the current Opioid/Overdose Crisis, the drug trafficking networks responsible for the distribution of narcotics throughout our county, and the unacceptable deaths of our fellow citizens as a result,” jurors said in the report.
Mother, others charged in death of 3-year-old
The most high profile case investigated by the grand jury involved the January 2017 methamphetamine overdose death of 3-year-old Logan Starliper in Greencastle.
Evidence presented to the grand jury showed Brittany Higgins, the child’s mother, and Brian Bennett were at the Greencastle home and under the influence of methamphetamines themselves when the child ingested the drug.
Both were charged with third degree murder, drug delivery resulting in death, involuntary manslaughter, two counts of endangering the welfare of children and possession of drug paraphernalia.
As a result of that case, the grand jury also recommended that charges be filed against six other individuals it identified as part of a network of dealers associated with the illegal drug trade in Franklin County.
Drug dealers, network targeted in report
Other dealers were identified in the cases presented to the grand jury, resulting in local charges.
Two members of a Hagerstown, Md., drug ring providing local dealers with heroin and fentenyl were identified as the result of one of the overdose investigations. They have both been federally indicted in Baltimore.
Although the grand jury investigated other types of cases, the overwhelming focus was on fatal overdose investigations. Most were related to heroin and fentanyl-related drug trafficking in Franklin County.
The work had a profound impact on jurors, according to the report.
Jurors worldviews expanded by investigations
“We are a conscripted group of citizens, representing Franklin County, and our eyes and worldviews have been widely expanded regarding what happens in the shadows of our county,” jurors said in the report.
During that time, jurors heard from police, witnesses and family members of overdose victims and often that testimony changed their perception of the victims, whom jurors said are often called “addicts” or “junkies.”
They had a look behind the headlines and learned that although victims chose to take drugs, there was also a network providing the illegal drugs.
They saw how family and friends were impacted by drug overdose deaths, jurors said in the report.
“When one sincerely reflects upon that familial and societal impact, and the basic value of an individual’s life, attitudes and mores change from uneducated offhand comments about addiction to comprehension, acknowledgment and involvement,” the report read.
The panel’s work left jurors with a better understanding of how the county’s drug delivery network operates, the report said.
As a result, jurors worked hard to change both user attitudes and the illegal drug supply network the report said.
Other cases investigated, jury recommendations
Jurors also reviewed evidence and heard testimony concerning a 1972 homicide, a 2015 jewelry store robbery and a series of previously unreported sexual assaults.
In the jewelry store robbery case the jury issued Presentments recommending that the DA’s office charge Gerard Davis and Juan Antonio Ferandez-Munoz with robbery, conspiracy and theft by unlawful taking.
In the September 1972 shooting death of Morgan Peters, 30, Bayshore, Long Island, New York, the grand jury issued a presentment recommending that the DA’s office begin criminal proceedings and charge a person with first degree murder and robbery. The jury did not identify the individual in the report.
The presentment came after the jury heard the testimony from a Pennsylvania State Police trooper and a civilian witness. Jurors reviewed both recorded interviews and written documents, as well as reports, photographs, and other evidence in the case.
Peters body was found at the side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Metal Township. Investigators and the coroner’s office determined at the time that he been shot and killed two days earlier.
The case remains under review by the district attorney’s office.