EAST ST. LOUIS — Most of the people at the sentencing Thursday of the mother and son heroin dealers knew Jessica Williams.
They included Williams' family, who asked that the dealers go to prison for life. They included U.S. District Judge David Herndon, who heard Williams testify against another heroin dealer in 2011. And they included John Stobbs, the attorney who defended the dealer against whom Williams testified as well as the dealer who gave her the heroin that caused her death more than a year ago.
Williams' presence in the courtroom was more than memories. An urn with her ashes sat on the prosecution table.
The mother, Deborah Perkins, received 27 years. The son, Douglas Oliver, received 30 years.
Herndon recalled that Williams in 2011 provided some of the most dramatic moments in the case against heroin dealer Tavis Doyle.
"Her testimony went a long way in convicting Doyle, who was a very bad guy," Herndon said.
Doyle was convicted of providing crack cocaine to a 17-year-old runaway and providing heroin to a man who later died from an overdose. Stobbs represented Doyle, who is serving a life sentence.
"Her eyes were still bright. She hadn't given up," Stobbs said, recalling that Williams talked about her relatives and "trying to get a normal life."
Williams lost her chance at that normal life on March 3, 2012, when she overdosed on heroin in Oliver's bed. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Garrison told Herndon that Oliver traded sex for heroin. When Williams overdosed, Perkins and Oliver moved the body to a trash pile in Washington Park.
"Was she dead when he dumped her?" Williams' mom, Ginny Thomason, said during her testimony. "I choose to believe that she was for my own sanity."
Her remains were found three weeks later.
Perkins and Oliver were charged in state court with hiding Williams' body, but they were released from jail on bond.
Six months later, Jennifer Herling, 30, overdosed in Oliver's bed. Again, Garrison said Oliver traded sex for heroin.
But Chris Keel, Herling's mother, disputed that.
"I know he murdered my daughter to shut her up," Keel said.
Thomason and Keel urged Herndon to sentence Oliver and Perkins to life in prison, but both already had plea agreements with the government. Oliver and Perkins agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin, possession with intent to distribute heroin and maintaining a drug house, their home at 20 Kassing Drive in Fairview Heights. In exchange, prosecutors would ask for sentences of 27 years for Perkins, who is 65, and 30 years for Oliver, who is 47.
Stobbs told Herndon that Oliver nearly got away from his poor upbringing, but lost a baseball scholarship in college and returned to Perkins and drugs.
"He allowed the addiction to get the better of him," Stobbs said. Perkins then took Oliver into the "family business of dealing heroin."
Perkins' other son, Harold Gardner Jr., is currently serving a 15 1/2 year prison sentence for selling heroin.
At one point at the sentencing, Oliver rose to address Herndon, but asked for permission to speak to Williams' and Herling's families.
"I know that the sight of me is salt in the wounds," Oliver said.
He said what he did was wrong and stupid.
"I am very sorry."
Oliver turned to Herndon and told him that he shared his knowledge of public corruption.
Garrison then confirmed that Oliver did provide information in the investigation.
Perkins and Oliver were part of the drug ring that supplied drugs to former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook through his dealer, Sean McGilvery. New judge Joe Crist died from a cocaine overdose at Cook's family cabin after drugs were sold to them by St. Clair County probation officer James Fogarty.
Prosecutors have said Cook was a daily heroin customer.
Fogarty and Cook both await sentencing.
Perkins pooled money from Oliver and McGilvery to buy heroin in Chicago. In January, agents watched as Perkins departed a Greyhound bus with a load of heroin. McGilvery, who pleaded guilty to heroin distribution charges in August, was one of Perkins' and Oliver's primary distributors.
Perkins and Oliver still face state charges related to concealing Williams' death. They have not been charged in connection with Herling's death.
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2570.