Two key figures in courthouse drug scandal admit guilt in fatal heroin overdoses

News-DemocratDecember 20, 2013 

— The sentence imposed in state court for the mother and son heroin trafficking team didn't add a day to their time behind bars.

It wasn't about a lengthy prison sentence. Deborah A. Perkins, 66, and her son, Douglas Oliver, 47, both already face decades in federal prison on drug charges.

It was about the duo taking responsibility for the deaths of two women who overdosed on heroin provided by Perkins and Oliver, said St. Clair County States Attorney Brendan Kelly.

"This was done entirely for the family," Kelly said. "The mothers of Jessica Williams and Jennifer Herling have been through hell. What we did today was for them."

Perkins and Oliver pleaded guilty to two charges of involuntary homicide and a charge of concealment of a death. They left Williams' body on a Washington Park trash pile after she overdosed on heroin March 3, 2012, at the home Perkins and Oliver shared in Fairview Heights.

Six months after Williams' death, ambulances were called to the same house at at 20 Kassing Drive after Jennifer Herling overdosed on heroin in Oliver's bed.

"They are going to be held accountable," Herling's mother, Chris Keel said. "Now their death certificates will be changed to show it was homicide."

On behalf of the families and as a result of Friday's convictions, Kelly said the coroner's office submitted paperwork to the Department of Public Health to amend the death certificates of Jennifer Herling and Jessica Williams from accident to homicide.

The 19-year prison sentenced delivered by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert Haida will be served concurrently with their federal prison sentences as Kelly requested.

"In light of the concerns of the family, the priority for them and the state in this case, was that this defendant be held accountable for the acts that lead to the death of Jennifer Herling and Jessica Williams," Kelly said.

With the decision to run the sentences concurrent with the federal sentence, Oliver will serve the 19-year state sentence at the same time he is serving a 30-year federal sentence. Perkins will serve her 19-year state sentence while serving her 27-year federal sentence.

Kelly thanked the U.S. Attorney for their efforts "which made today's charge, conviction and sentence possible."

Perkins' other son, Harold Gardner Jr., is also serving a 15 1/2 year prison sentence for selling heroin.

Oliver and Perkins faced state heroin distribution charges. Those charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

During his plea, Oliver apologized to the family.

"What I did was wrong and I am sorry," he said.

Perkins declined to comment during her sentencing.

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 Christ 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.

During Friday morning's sentencing, Kelly said "there was no evidence whatsoever the former judge Mike Cook was involved with (these defendants) or (their) criminal activities of involuntary manslaughter of Jessica Williams or Jennifer Herling."

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 on 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.

Jim Gomric, Perkins' attorney, said he hoped the conclusion of the case brought healing.

Ginny Thomason, Williams' mother, said after the sentencing that it was a start.

"I feel that we got some justice. There will never be enough justice."

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