On April 11, the final night of his life, Ben Berkenbile cruised across the Clark Bridge from Illinois into Missouri, where he and his fellow travelers had an appointment to score some heroin.
Riding shotgun was Josh Rogers, a former cook who'd battled his opiate addiction for nearly a decade. In the back seat was Rogers' girlfriend, 27-year-old Angela Halliday, a former dean's list student and ex-suicide counselor.
Halliday and Rogers had woken up that day in excruciating pain. The two addicts were facing their second day of heroin withdrawal and needed to get high. Neither had any money, so they reached out to one of their many St. Louis dealers — the one they knew was a junkie himself — and offered him a trade: heroin in exchange for several tablets of Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug used to soften the effects of dope-sickness and heighten the pleasures of shooting up. Halliday had a prescription for the medication, and she and Rogers had spent the afternoon popping several pills to numb their pain. By evening, says Halliday, "we were seeing pink elephants."
Halliday had recently lost her car, which made the couple's once-daily drug runs to St. Louis more difficult. On this particular night, they'd contacted Berkenbile, 27, a recent nursing school graduate who also lived in the Alton area. They offered him a few Xanax tablets in return for a ride.
Once in St. Louis County, Berkenbile swung into a shopping area to pick up the waiting drug dealer. Halliday says Berkenbile had $100 to spend on his own dope that night, but because of the pills she'd guzzled, her memory of the transaction is hazy.
Once the dealer was dropped off, Halliday and Rogers immediately cooked up a shot and injected themselves. Minutes later, they hit themselves again. The extras doses would prove almost fatal; Halliday, in particular, drifted into such an unresponsive state that Berkenbile had to douse her with water to bring her back to consciousness.
Once in Illinois, Berkenbile did his own shot. Eventually, he dropped off Halliday and Rogers at a local convenience store and headed to a bar. Around 1:15 a.m., he drove home.
The next morning, Berkenbile's father discovered his son's body slumped over a bathroom sink. His legs were in a standup position, his head pressed against the mirror. A syringe was lodged in his right hand, and two open heroin capsules lay nearby.
On March 17, Stephen Wigginton, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, approached the podium at the O'Fallon Police Department in front of a crowd of reporters. He'd called for the press conference the day before to address the rise in heroin overdoses in the Metro East and outline a new law-enforcement initiative.
Wigginton's message: When their dope leads to another person's death, we will start treating heroin suppliers like murderers.
"We are going to treat every overdose scene like a crime scene," Wigginton said as flashbulbs popped. Cell phones will be seized. Residue will be analyzed. Witnesses will be interviewed. "We are going to treat every overdose as a potential homicide," he said. "Heroin is the bullet."
And another thing, Wigginton announced: You don't have to be an actual dealer to be charged with these crimes. As long as you provide deadly drugs to another human being — even if that person is your friend, even if there is no money involved — you will be held accountable. "You'll be treated as a drug dealer, prosecuted as a drug dealer and may spend the rest of your life in prison," Wigginton warned.
Wigginton's announcement did not hinge on any new law. There had long been federal and state statutes in place allowing prosecutors to charge dealers for overdose deaths. But Wigginton wanted to make clear that the laws would be enforced more severely – and that he had the backing of the FBI, state's attorneys, sheriffs' offices and local police departments.
When Madison County State's Attorney Thomas D. Gibbons took the podium, his message was the same: "Users, this could very well be the end of your life. Dealers, your dead end will be in a state prison or in a federal prison."
By announcing the new initiative, Wigginton and Gibbons were appealing to a sense of fear and desperation in the Metro East — and indeed, the entire St. Louis region — as the body count of heroin-overdose victims continued to mount. In the city of St. Louis, the number of fatal overdoses jumped from 38 in 2008 to 66 in 2010. In St. Louis County, the tally ticked up from 51 to 60.
But the situation in Madison County seemed uniquely worrying. In that jurisdiction, home to a smaller population than its neighboring counties across the river, heroin fatalities had more than tripled, from five in 2008 to eighteen in 2010. That number will almost certainly be eclipsed this year, as the county coroner's office has already recorded fourteen fatal overdoses through June, with a fifteenth potential case still under investigation.
Experts give various reasons for the drug's rise. Whereas heroin once carried a stigma associated with dirty needles and sketchy alleyways, it's now being marketed to younger users as a socially acceptable drug that can be smoked or snorted, like cocaine. It's also gotten cheaper: A $10 button can get you high for four hours.
Moreover, the purity level is rising, making it easier to get hooked, says Harry S. Sommers, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's St. Louis Division. According to Sommers' intelligence unit, laboratory analysis for seizures from the St. Louis area in 2009 showed a 24 percent average purity level; in 2010, that number rose to 35 percent, with the highest reported purity level being 91.6 percent.
St. Louis, with its web of highways, has become a national hub of heroin trafficking, according to last year's National Drug Threat Assessment. Regionally, between 2005 and 2009, the percentage of emergency-room and drug-treatment admissions related to heroin use rose 19 percent, marking the largest such increase among the fourteen U.S. regions tracked by the National Institute on Drug Abuse's Community Epidemiology Work Group.
Dr. Tony Scalzo, medical director of the Missouri Poison Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, says one reason overdose numbers are ballooning is that each button sold on the street is different. "You don't know what you're getting," he says. "Unless you have a forensic toxicologist on retainer with you 24/7, you won't know the purity of your dose, and that's what determines the toxicity."
Scalzo's advice: "Buyer beware."
Angela Halliday recalls a happy childhood growing up in Bethalto, Illinois, daughter to an auditor and grade-school teacher, well respected in their community. From an early age she showed an appetite for books and politics, favoring pot-stirring authors like Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut. Friends describe her as caring and funny, with an intellectual streak that distinguished her from peers. "We loved drinking and watching Sex and the City together," says a friend. "But mostly she was glued to CNN and Rachel Maddow."
Halliday's cerebral nature blossomed further at Greenville College, the central Illinois school where she majored in philosophy, served as a teacher's assistant and made the dean's list. Professors at the Christian college appreciated the perspective of the only atheist and socialist in the room. The young scholar idolized Russian psychoanalyst Lou Andreas-Salomé for her seductions of famous thinkers like Nietzsche and Freud. "She was the toast of nineteenth-century intellectual Europe," says Halliday. "All these smart boys loved her."
During college, Halliday developed a fondness for drugs. "I smoked lots of pot, tripped on acid, took Ecstasy when it came around and occasionally used prescription drugs," she says. "But I was so happy. I loved philosophy. I loved writing."
After graduating in 2007, Halliday took a job as an overnight crisis-intervention worker and suicide counselor in Jerseyville, about a half-hour drive north of her hometown. She'd wait for emergency calls to come in, then travel to hospitals, jails and drug-treatment centers to provide support and psychiatric assessment for people on the verge of breakdown.
But Halliday would become frustrated by a mental-health system that lumped patients into overly broad psychiatric categories without getting to the root of anyone's unique symptoms. "The job was rewarding on one hand, because I was helping people, but on the other hand it was very jading seeing how little people give a fuck about what they do," she says.
Eventually the darker nature of the job started gnawing at her. She worried that, for some of her patients, suicide seemed almost inevitable. "I was acutely aware that there was always someone suffering so badly, always someone in intense pain." Sometimes, after a rough shift, Halliday would go home and pop a few prescription pills to wind down.
In August 2009 her company went through a round of layoffs, and Halliday was let go. (Her boss confirms the layoff wasn't performance-related.) She grew depressed. The relationship with her boyfriend was not going well, and she began slipping into self-medication with opiates. First it was Vicodin. Then Percocet. Then OxyContin.
"And the first time I tried Oxy, I was in love," she says.
In the spring of 2010, she stumbled onto a casual acquaintance named Ben Berkenbile in a Wal-Mart parking lot one afternoon. Berkenbile, she says, was sitting in his car, fumbling with a needle. Halliday had never seen heroin before and was curious. She handed him $10 for a capsule, took it home and put its contents up her nose.
As her melancholy persisted, her opiate cravings intensified. She drifted away from college friends that summer and began hanging out with other Alton-area users. They'd pool their money in drug-friendly households and wait for heroin shipments to arrive from St. Louis.
There's a saying: For every ten years of heroin addiction, seven of them are spent waiting. It was during one of those waiting periods that Halliday met Josh Rogers.
Rogers was a skinny 29-year-old chef at a nearby Captain D's, beloved by friends and coworkers for his kindness despite his opiate addictions. Halliday noticed a Noam Chomsky library book poking out of his bag and introduced herself. She liked his big, hazel eyes and gentle charisma. He liked her dark makeup and compassionate demeanor. Eventually they began dating.
As the relationship took off, so did Halliday's heroin use. By the end of the summer she was snorting it each morning as soon as she got of bed. But before long, she could no longer take the pain. "It felt like my nose would rot off my face," she says.
In the fall, she allowed a friend to inject her for the first time.
"And it was beautiful," she says. "After that I was never satisfied snorting it again."
The next couple months became a wild ride of drug binging. Halliday and Rogers became "married to the needle"; no drug — for her, neither heroin nor cocaine — was satisfying unless mainlined. "Whenever you understand the experience of slamming drugs into your veins, you can't do it any other way," she explains.
The couple blew a month's rent on dope and moved to a new house along with another user, Nikki Strasen, who for several years had been romantically involved with Rogers, including a period of engagement. The house was paid for by Strasen's father.
When Strasen moved out in an attempt to get clean, Halliday and Rogers remained, treating themselves to drug-fueled pleasure sprees. "Our eyes were bigger than our veins," Halliday quips. It was a happy time, she says. Rogers would eventually quit his job, and the couple would spend all day together. They'd make their daily drug run and then return to bed, where they'd listen to music, play board games and make love.
"The sex was very much intertwined with our heroin use," says Halliday. "We were very hedonistic."
The couple pledged to move to California together, where Rogers would apply for a medical-marijuana license and Halliday would apply to grad school. "I felt so alive," she says. "I was never so in love in my life." Their addiction led to a feeling of trust. Every dollar was shared. Every baggie was split. Rogers could fish through Halliday's purse, and she through his wallet. Whoever was deeper into withdrawal sickness would get the next shot.
That level of trust would soon become a means of survival. Their addiction had grown so deep that they'd frequently overdose, to the point of nodding off into unresponsiveness. One would keep watch over the other and intervene when necessary. "Basically, we were saving each other's life," says Halliday.
And with that sentiment, Halliday underscores a certain truth to heroin addiction.
"We all knew we were playing Russian roulette," she says. "We all knew we could die. We understood that. We talked about it. And we all chose to do it because it was worth it to us."
Madison County State's Attorney Thomas Gibbons sits inside his Edwardsville office, next to a shelf displaying photos of his two sons in their Little League uniforms. Gibbons was appointed to his position last November when his predecessor was elected circuit judge, and will face an election next year. He makes no apologies for his hard line when it comes to prosecuting drug pushers for murder.
"I fear for the existence of the county my sons grow up in," he says. "We intend to absolutely make an example of these people in public. I want to scare people from getting into this. I want to give them the fear of becoming the soulless people addicts become."
His message to junkies who pass along heroin to each other: "You are part of a drug-distribution network the moment you give another person the drug, just like the dealer," he says. "You're no different or better." He pauses and adds: "Why would you hand a friend something you know can kill them?"
From January to June 2010, Gibbons' office issued 46 heroin-related charges. During the same period in 2011, that number jumped to 94. Two-thirds of those charges were issued after the March 17 press conference with U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton; two of them were for drug-induced homicide.
The drug-induced homicide charge is a Class-X felony, making it similar to first-degree murder, says Gibbons. The punishment carries a 6- to 30-year sentencing period, with the possibility of a 30-year extension. Prior to this year, Gibbons' office prosecuted at least three drug-induced homicide charges; two of the defendants pleaded guilty, and the other died before his case was litigated.
At the federal level, Wigginton says his office has successfully prosecuted eight heroin suppliers over the last two years. The federal version of drug-induced homicide, defined in legal parlance as "the illegal distribution of drugs resulting in death or serious bodily injury," carries a twenty-year minimum sentence. Wigginton, like Gibbons, wants addicts to be afraid. "If users know they can get a minimum prison sentence of twenty years if their drugs lead to someone else's overdose, that would be a huge deterrent," he says.
But that philosophy isn't shared by other prosecutors. In the St. Louis area, it appears that only two such cases have been brought in recent years: In 2005 a 25-year-old St. Charles County woman was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after directly shooting up an acquaintance, and earlier this year, the Lincoln County prosecuting attorney brought felony-murder charges against a woman who also confessed to a direct injection.
Wigginton's counterpart across the Mississippi River, Richard Callahan, the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Missouri, calls the federal statute a "heavy hammer" to be used sparingly.
"Low-level dealers are usually nothing more than addicts who are just selling enough to support their habit," says Callahan. "Locking them up for a twenty-year minimum sentence simply because a fellow user overdosed would not be a good use of prison space." (Among the aggravating circumstances that would prompt Callahan to use the statute: if the victim were an unwitting user of the illegal substance; if there were multiple deaths involved with one batch of drugs; if the dealer were a high-level distributor.)
Even Gibbons concedes that the hard evidence needed to prosecute drug-induced homicides is difficult to obtain. With fourteen heroin overdoses in his jurisdiction through June of this year, he says he'd love to charge fourteen people for murder.
"But it's tricky to come up with the person who put the drugs in their hand," he says.
In 2006, while still in college, Halliday set up a personal blog, where she'd post philosophical musings. Her entries sometimes veered toward fatalism, but some also expressed a Utopian sense of hope.
"We should live and move in such a way that could possibly generate something better," she wrote in 2007, citing Ernst Bloch. "The possible instills in us a motivating desire toward the good, which historical progress will hopefully catalyze and eventually realize."
But by fall of last year, a few months after her first injection, her prose had turned increasingly macabre. She began foreshadowing death and suicide, referring to heroin as "Mother H" and "Lady H, coursing through my bloodstream." Her sentences are by turn lustful — "the real world melts into an enchanting fairy tale of the senses" — and bleak: "my body ceases to exist, and good riddance, with its irritating, claustrophobic essence." One post is titled "A day in the life of a semi-pro junkie."
By early 2011 she'd developed track marks — "war wounds," she calls them — on her chest. She'd begun to crave not just the heroin rush, but also the feeling of a needle in her skin. Rogers would stick the needle into the back of each hand. His veins had grown so small, he'd do pushups before shooting up.
The periods of nodding out into unresponsiveness had increased. But to them, that had become exactly the point.
"The line between 'as high as I'd like to be' and dying is not there," Halliday explains. "Every time I fell out, the last thing I remember is, 'Oh, my God, this is the best dope ever.'"
Up till then, the couple had financed their habit in various ways. At one point, Halliday landed another job with a crisis-care facility but was laid off after arriving late and calling in sick too many times. The couple hocked most of their personal possessions: their iPod, a few PlayStation3s, several DVDs. "We were so desperate, we pawned off a digital camera before we even got the pictures developed," says Halliday. Rogers would mooch money from his doting grandmother, pretending he needed the money for bills, and Halliday solicited as much money as she could from her parents, whom she tried to keep in the dark.
Such methods didn't last long. Halliday's parents eventually changed the alarm system in the house, hoping it would help force their daughter to get clean. (Both sets of parents declined to comment for this article.)
On a few occasions, the couple dabbled in petty crime. Halliday stole food from convenience stores. Rogers, meanwhile, was caught writing a couple false checks and was cited twice for possession of drug paraphernalia.
Neighbors took note of their problem. "I saw them all the time at Beasley's [convenience store] walking around like zombies with their eyes this big," recalls one neighbor, forming a silver dollar-size circle with his fingers.
Halliday would eventually offer up her car title in exchange for a loan so she and Rogers could stay high. In March, she managed to land an administrative desk job, but by month's end she and Rogers were kicked out of their home by Nikki Strasen's father. Halliday asked a high school friend in Godfrey, Jen Scholbe, if they could move into her extra bedroom.
Scholbe agreed, with reservations. "We used to be best friends, but after she turned to drugs, her priorities changed," she says. "So did her appearance. Her skin had gotten really bad." At first Halliday denied she had a problem, says Scholbe. "Later, she told me, 'If you think it's a bigger problem, then I'm going to continue to lie to you and reassure you that it's not.'"
Being stranded in Godfrey with no car led to extended periods of dope sickness. Heroin withdrawal can be brutal; after just 24 hours without a hit, "it's like the skin is crawling off your body," she says. Symptoms included aches, chills, nausea, insomnia, cramps, diarrhea, anxiety, frequent trips to the bathroom and uncontrollable bouts of sneezing. "It felt like my entire face was running," she says.
By April the couple — who just a few months before had seemed to have no cares in the world — had hit rock bottom.
With Rogers facing drug court, they turned to each other and made a pact: It was time to get clean.
But not before "one last, big hurrah," says Halliday.
That's when they reached out to Ben Berkenbile for a ride.
Katie Granju never wished to become so knowledgeable about drug-induced homicide laws. But ever since her son Henry died from a heroin overdose last year, she has become a de facto, if unfortunate, expert on the subject.
Granju, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, has been fighting for a year to convince prosecutors to bring murder charges against the people who supplied Henry with the fatal drugs; more recently, she's elevated her cause to the national level, urging more jurisdictions to enforce the drug-induced death laws that in many cases are already on the books. She's built a website called justiceforhenry .com, using it to tally what is probably the most comprehensive list of drug-induced homicide charges in the country.
"When someone dies as a result of an activity deemed to be dangerous criminal activity, then it's logical that the death should be called a homicide," she says. "The fact that a drug addict asks for it and voluntarily ingests it can't be part of the equation; that's like saying that if you shoot someone because they beg you, then you aren't responsible."
Granju does show sympathy for average addicts who are snatched up by these laws; she acknowledges that her son had shared drugs with several of his own friends before his death. But that doesn't sway her opinion.
"Had my son injured someone else after trading drugs, I'd give anything for him to be in jail rather than dead," she says.
Granju sees her efforts paying off. "I see it picking up steam across the country," she says. "Illinois is the national leader. Wigginton has laid down the law, no pun intended, and you have local jurisdictions starting to follow his lead." She also credits Tazewell County coroner Dennis Conover, an ex-cop, for his willingness to label drug overdoses as homicides, not accidents, on victims' death certificates.
But Granju's argument falls flat with many criminal-defense lawyers, who maintain that such laws were originally drafted to go after bona fide drug dealers — not helpless addicts. These attorneys argue that the users have become easy bait while the real dealers roam free.
"These are dangerous laws," says Joel Schwartz, a St. Louis attorney whose client was convicted in federal court of distribution leading to death. "Prosecutors need to use them with extreme caution."
"The kingpins are so far above the fray, and the heroin has been passed down three times before it's given to the guy who gives it to the guy who gets charged for murder — that has all the vagaries of being struck by lightning." says Madison County public defender John Rekowski.
Steven Beckett, director of the trial-advocacy program at University of Illinois' College of Law, agrees. "When I think of murder, I think of a volitional act we can ultimately say caused the death," he says. "One wouldn't automatically think the sale or delivery of a controlled substance has that kind of effect. To the extent the law has a deterrent value, I find it hard to believe."
Others worry about the expense of locking up common addicts. "It costs three times as much to incarcerate someone for drugs as to treat them," says St. Louis County police chief Tim Fitch.
Some predict that drug-induced laws cause more people to die. "People will become afraid to report an overdose because they worry they might be the one who gets charged," says Pete Guither, an Illinoisan and executive director of the Prohibition Isn't Free Foundation.
"The people passing these laws clearly don't care about saving lives."
The morning Ben Berkenbile died, Halliday and Rogers woke up in a hazy stupor, still wrecked from their Xanax-and-heroin bender the night before. Halliday called off work; later that day she learned the startling news about Berkenbile through a friend.
The next day she and Rogers were questioned separately by Madison County detectives investigating the case. The detectives had used Berkenbile's phone to trace him back to Nikki Strasen, who directed them to Rogers and Halliday. (Strasen, who'd met up with the trio later that night, now says she encouraged Berkenbile to go on the drug run in exchange for the Xanax, and she assumed he'd use the trip to buy his own heroin. For the past three months, she and Berkenbile had been shooting up recreationally, she says.)
A week later, Rogers and Halliday were ushered back to the sheriff's substation, this time by FBI agents, she says.
According to Halliday, the agents told her and Rogers that their futures were at stake – and encouraged the pair to go on a series of controlled runs to bust the original provider of the dope that killed Berkenbile. Halliday and Rogers declined.
(Lt. Mike Dixon, the lead Madison County detective on the case, doesn't confirm or deny Halliday's account, but says: "In all types of investigations it would be irresponsible not to ask a suspect to help advance the investigation in order to go after another dealer causing deaths.")
A few more weeks passed, and Halliday and Rogers renewed their pledge to quit. They talked about reestablishing honest relationships with their families, buying things they wouldn't pawn and adopting two cats they'd name Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. "We were really looking forward to being clean, and that was a first for us," says Halliday.
Halliday searched for treatment options for both of them, but no clinic would take Rogers, who lacked health insurance. Nevertheless, after a few false starts, the couple managed to get through five straight days of dope sickness and were starting to feel better.
By this time, they'd moved into the Redwood Motel in Godfrey. And it was there that they received a visit on May 9 from a fellow user, Jessie Outhouse, says Halliday. Rogers had called Outhouse, a U.S. Navy veteran who served aboard the USS Constellation, to swap some Xanax for cash, she says.
When he arrived at the motel, Outhouse claimed to know how to score "the best heroin ever," says Halliday.
"You've got to try it — it's raw," she recalls Outhouse saying. ("Raw" means it hasn't been cut with Dorman sleeping pills.)
Halliday and Rogers looked at each other, knowing they needed the money to pay for the motel room. But just as they had done so many times before, they gave in to their addiction.
Rogers and Outhouse went on the drug run while Halliday waited at the motel, popped a few Xanax and watched TV, she says.
Several hours later, Rogers was dropped off by Outhouse and another man, Brian Beckham, says Halliday. Rogers was in a drug-induced haze, stumbling across the room and mumbling to himself. "He was completely disoriented and making no sense," recalls Halliday. She also wondered why her boyfriend hadn't brought back any heroin for her.
Halliday made various attempts to get Rogers into bed over the next hour or two. Eventually, he lay down on the floor and closed his eyes. Exhausted, Halliday fixed him up with a blanket and a pillow, then climbed into bed and went to sleep.
When Halliday awoke late that afternoon, she peered over the bed to check on Rogers. But something seemed amiss; he was completely unresponsive. Halliday called 911 then began pumping his chest and breathing into his mouth. The paramedics pronounced Rogers dead at 6:28 p.m.
The motel room was declared a crime scene. Halliday, still in her pajamas, was escorted to the street in tears.
That evening, a detective took her to the Madison County Sheriff's Office, where she was questioned, cuffed and put in jail. Two days later, a press release went out from the sheriff's department announcing that Halliday had been charged with drug-induced homicide.
But it wasn't for any role in Rogers' death. It was for the death of Ben Berkenbile.
"Halliday was identified during the investigative effort as an individual responsible for obtaining heroin for Berkenbile during the late evening hours of April 11, 2011," the release stated. "It is the heroin that was exchanged between Halliday and Berkenbile on April 11, 2011, that is believed to have led to Berkenbile's death."
The Alton Telegraph ran a story. "We are coming," State's Attorney Thomas Gibbons told the paper. "We are coming with everything we've got."
On May 26, Halliday was formally indicted by a grand jury. The charge states that Halliday "unlawfully delivered heroin" to Berkenbile. She has pleaded not guilty; if convicted, she faces up to 30 years in prison. (Though, considering she has no prior felonies, she'd be much more likely to serve a term closer to the six-year minimum.)
Halliday is one of two people to have been charged by Gibbons' office with drug-induced homicide since the March 17 press conference. The other defendant, Taylor Kennedy, has pleaded not guilty as well. (Kennedy, twenty, is accused of delivering fatal heroin to Shannon Gaddis, a seventeen-year-old high school senior from Troy, who died in January.)
Their pleas set up potentially high-profile trials in the upcoming year.
Detective Dixon says there is evidence showing that Halliday was responsible for delivering the drugs that led to Berkenbile's death but declines to say what it is. He insists the timing of Rogers' death and Halliday's arrest was coincidence.
If the case goes to trial, Halliday's fate could come down to a technical question: Did Halliday physically handle Berkenbile's money or the dope that ended up in his veins? The prosecutor might also try to show that Halliday introduced Berkenbile to the drug dealer, and that caused his death — or that her Xanax helped pay for his fatal dose of heroin.
The assistant prosecuting attorney handling the case declined to comment.
Dixon, who served as the deputy director of the Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Southwestern Illinois prior to joining the sheriff's office, says he hopes the case will send a message to people thinking about trying heroin for the first time. "Something has to be done," he says. "We can't sit idly by as more young people are brought into addiction by other addicts, whether they are strangers or friends.
"You can't just go after the guy with the nice house, the nice car, sitting on a kilo of dope," he continues. "There are probably ten people between him and the user. If we ignore the individuals on the bottom, we can never get to the people above."
Halliday's attorney declined to comment for this article. But friends come to her defense. "Angie is not a murderer," says Jen Scholbe. "They're portraying her as a dealer, but that's not who she was. I think they're using her as a scapegoat."
Meanwhile, Dr. David Berkenbile is still trying to come to grips with his son's death. Ben, he says, was the rock of the family with great potential as a nurse. He'll leave it to law enforcement to make sense of the case, but says: "I don't feel vindictive against the other people involved. I just hate drugs. So many wonderful people have been hurt and destroyed by them. If drugs were a person, they would be guilty of this murder."
Over the July 4 holiday weekend, Angela Halliday, wearing slippers and a gray-and-black horizontal-striped uniform, walks up to the glass panel of the visitors' center at the Madison County Jail and takes a seat.
She's a big woman — five-foot-eleven, about 200 pounds — with black glasses and matted black hair that hangs over the right side of her face. She carries a red identification bracelet on her wrist and a folded-up photograph of herself and Rogers in her breast pocket.
Halliday is visibly shaken, but not from the heroin withdrawal, or the jail treatment, or even the prospects of a lengthy prison term. It's Rogers' death that upsets her.
Had there been heroin in the room when she discovered his body, she would have used it to commit suicide, she says. Death always seemed inevitable. But her expectation was that it would arrive at the same time for each of them.
"We thought if we come up dead, we'd come up dead together," she says. "We left instructions on our cell phone for funerals. We split everything down the middle. It's completely inconceivable that I'm alive and he's not."
Shortly after being admitted to jail, Halliday, a former suicide counselor for inmates, was placed on suicide watch and given a counselor of her own. The guards tried to put her in a one-piece jump suit, which wouldn't fit properly. She spent the night sitting on the floor of an isolated cell, naked, singing Rogers' favorite songs, like "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again," by Bob Dylan, and "Whoops, I OD'd," by NOFX.
"I just don't think about the outside world at all, because if I do, I'll start to think that he's not in it, and won't be waiting for me on the other side," she says, fighting back emotion. "Being free to me means finally facing the full reality of what I lost to heroin. I lost my favorite person in the world."
Though Halliday is no longer suicidal, her mood ebbs and flows. Sometimes she's able to channel the wicked humor she was once known for. (Reached by phone recently and asked how she's feeling, she replies, "Not guilty, how are you!")
Rogers, she says, would want her to soldier through to trial.
"I'm really passionate about the philosophical dispute I have with this whole thing," she says about the murder charges brought against her. "I can't believe they would charge even a drug dealer because of a junkie ODing. We knew how close we came to dying over and over again. It would not have been anyone's fault but our own.
"Ben knew the risks involved," she says. "That very night, hours before he gave himself that very dose, he saw me and Josh almost die in his car. It could just as easily be Ben or Josh being charged with my death. That just seems very arbitrary to me — and not justice at all."
She does agree with the prosecuters on one point: The law is intended as a deterrent. Halliday admits belonging to a community of Alton-area addicts who used cooperative tactics like money-pooling and car-sharing to stay high. She realizes prosecutors are trying to topple over the entire Jenga tower by knocking out one piece.
If Halliday does earn her freedom back, she's not sure what will become of her. She knows she'll immediately feel the pull of heroin; she wonders whether she'll be able to abstain. "I wish I could be that kind of person who could do it on occasion," she says. "And, paradoxically, I wish I could say for certain I'd never do it again. But if I told you I could do either of those things, that would be me underestimating the power this has over me.
"I'm going to try, though," she says. "I will try. I don't want to be a dope fiend ever again. Ever. I really don't want to be that person who has to hustle money every day, go to work sick, lie to my family and commit crimes just to keep from being ill.
"But it's hard for me to imagine what I have to look forward to without it. I've only had one way of coping with my problems for a long time now. I don't think anyone who was addicted the way I was, the way Josh was — I don't think anyone could say, 'I'm never going to do it again.' They're just overestimating their own willpower.
"It's the best thing I've ever experienced, and that's the God's honest truth. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
On the morning of July 30, Halliday was called into the jail's library for a video-assisted court hearing. The judge's news was unexpected: Halliday had been charged by Gibbons' office for the drug-induced homicide of Joshua Paul Rogers.
Two days later the Sheriff's Office unsealed the paperwork, revealing that Halliday had been charged along with two other men: Brian Beckham of East Alton and Adam Butler of St. Louis.
The coroner's inquest into Rogers' death does not suggest that Halliday went on the drug run or used heroin that night, as she has long averred. But the inquest does imply that Halliday sold Xanax earlier that day and gave the proceeds to Rogers, which he used to purchase his fatal heroin.
Asked how Halliday could be charged with drug-induced homicide without being present when he obtained the heroin, Captain Bradley Wells, the Madison County chief of detectives, says: "Anybody who facilitates any part of the transaction in the passing of illegal drugs has culpability."
The idea that Halliday murdered her boyfriend has her noticeably distraught. "They're crucifying me," she cries on the morning she learns of the new charges, gasping to get the words out.
She intends to plead not guilty.
Neither Beckham nor Butler have been apprehended. They are considered wanted by the sheriff's office.
Jessie Outhouse, the other man Halliday says participated in Rogers' final drug run, will not be charged. On June 13, Outhouse died from what appears to be a heroin overdose.
The case is under investigation.
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