GREENFIELD — Shawn Root wears a guitar pick around her neck every day. It’s a necklace she received shortly after her son, Jacob, died earlier this year at the age of 16.
Jacob was a gifted musician, his mother told a courtroom full of people Monday afternoon. He was a jokester and loved to laugh. His future was bright and uncharted.
And she wears this necklace each day to remind herself of all that she has lost. Her son — who overdosed last January on a potent mixture of heroin and fentanyl that was provided to him by a friend — is just a memory now, she said. One never far from her mind, in the same way this necklace is never far from her heart.
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Shawn Root spoke tearfully and frankly from the witness stand, looking up regularly from the letter in her hand to stare at that friend of her son’s, Anna Southgate, who was accused of causing the teen’s death and was seated a short distance away at the defendant’s table.
Investigators say Southgate, now 20, showed Jacob how to inject the drugs while they were alone together one night at her home.
She then watched as the teen’s skin grew paler, and she used her smartphone to do a series of Google searches, including “what to do if your friend has overdosed” and “the dying process.”
But she never called 911.
Now, she’ll serve a 12-year sentence after pleading guilty to one Level 4 felony count of dealing a narcotic drug and one Level 5 felony count of reckless homicide. She’ll spend the first eight years of her sentence in an Indiana Department of Correction prison; after her release, she’ll serve four years on probation.
Jacob’s mother was one of several relatives of the victim’s and the defendant’s who spoke during an emotional sentencing hearing Monday in Hancock Circuit Court. Their testimony painted a troubling picture of Southgate’s relationship with Jacob Root that hadn’t been shared publicly before.
Shawn Root said she’d fought with Jacob about his relationship with Southgate, who had been through drug rehab programs several times only to relapse.
She hadn’t wanted her son to be friends with Southgate. She’d begged Southgate’s parents to help her keep them apart. A judge had even ordered Southgate and Jacob not to have contact with one another.
So, the heartbreaking news of Jacob’s death came with an extra sting when she learned he had been with Southgate when his overdose occurred, Shawn Root said. And their desire to be together, their apparent deep friendship, was dulled by the terrible facts of the case.
Jacob was found unresponsive there midday Jan. 3 after Southgate’s father called 911 and told dispatchers the boy had been found not breathing. Despite efforts by paramedics to revive the boy, he never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.
Southgate later admitted to police that she gave Jacob the drugs that killed him, saying she knew he was “too high,” and she “kept him awake because she was afraid for him and didn’t want him to die,” according to court documents.
A search of Southgate’s cellphone as part of their investigation proved she knew her friend was in distress; a series of Google searches from the night Jacob died included “what to do if your friend has overdosed,” “how to intervene during an overdose” and “the dying process,” court documents state.
As she spoke in court, Shawn Root asked Southgate if she ever reflects on the choice she made that night. The choice to protect herself and her drugs rather than save Jacob’s life.
“What part of your brain takes over and says, ‘No. I’m not calling for help?” Shawn Root asked aloud.
“You chose his fate.”
Speaking briefly during the hearing, Southgate apologized for her actions and for Jacob’s loss.
She said she was an “out-of-control teenager” on a downward spiral around the time of Jacob’s death. She’s said if she had a time machine, she’d go back a trade places with Jacob in an instant.
Police say Southgate admitted she taught Jacob how to use heroin.
She told investigators she filled two syringes with heroin — one for her and one for him — around 4 a.m. on the day Jacob died, court documents state.
Then, she taught Jacob how to inject the drug; he’d snorted heroin before but never used a needle to shoot up. She even demonstrated how to insert it into a vein on the top of his hand, she said.
She told detectives the amount “didn’t even look like it was a lot,” and Jacob “was a bigger guy, and she thought he could handle it,” police reports state.
Officials discovered two punctures marks on Jacob’s hand during an autopsy after his death that were consistent with the injection marks Southgate described, court documents state.
Toxicology reports showed Jacob had a lethal dose of Fentanyl– a synthetic opioid-based painkiller that is more than 50 times more potent than morphine — in his system, along with other opiates, when he died.
Prosecutors argued that Southgate’s actions had earned her a strict prison sentence, but her attorney, Ronald Gemma of Indianapolis, asked the judge for leniency.
Gemma — who offered his condolences to the Root family during the hearing — told the judge that locking Southgate behind bars would put a burden on her family.
Southgate’s father died earlier this month, leaving her mother, who suffered a stroke about three years ago and has undergone several heart surgeries in the last year, all alone.
Gemma asked the judge to allow Southgate to serve a short prison sentence, followed by time in community corrections and probation. This should help rehabilitate Southgate and help her overcome her addictions, he said.
But Judge Scott Sirk sided with prosecutors, ordering Southgate to prison followed by a shorter stint on probation.
He told Southgate two things stood out to him about her actions in the months after Jacob’s death.
First was her refusal to name her drug dealer when asked by investigators — an action that could easily have saved more lives and prevented more overdoses.
The second was her reference to a time machine during her statement in court Monday. It showed her immaturity, Sirk said, calling her choice of words silly. Time machines aren’t real; life doesn’t offer re-dos.
She should have done the right thing that night, should have called for help, regardless of what the consequences would have been for, Sirk told Southgate. Now, there’s no going back.