WOODSTOCK – Medical experts testifying before McHenry County jurors in a drug-induced homicide trial Thursday had differing opinions on what caused the death of 21-year-old Danielle Barzyk.
James F. Linder, 36, of Zion is on trial this week after prosecutors said he sold 1.5 grams of heroin to Cody N. Hillier on Jan. 30, 2015. Hillier ingested the drugs with his girlfriend, Barzyk, of Algonquin, and she died in the early-morning hours of the next day.
Hillier then agreed to work with the North Central Narcotics Task Force and bought additional heroin from the defendant in a controlled narcotics transaction at a Walmart in Zion. Linder was pulled over after the alleged drug deal, and officers located the money Hillier was given to buy the drugs, his wallet, a cellphone and additional cash. Linder was arrested and has since been in McHenry County Jail custody.
Forensic pathologist Mitra Kalelkar, who testified for the state, said after conducting Barzyk’s autopsy in February 2015 and examining the toxicology report, she determined the cause of death was a heroin overdose.
She said Barzyk’s lungs were heavier than normal from a significant amount of fluid and congestion. Kalelkar said she sees this often in people who overdose on narcotics or drown. Heroin is a central nervous system depressant, meaning it inhibits the body from breathing properly, Kalelkar said. She also said she was aware of Barzyk’s history of asthma, but did not believe it was what caused her death.
Edward Barbieri, a forensic toxicologist who testified for the prosecution, said his office conducted tests on a blood sample of Barzyk’s and determined there was heroin in her system.
Hank Sugden, Linder’s attorney, asked Kalelkar if she examined the lung tissue microscopically and she said she had not before determining a cause of death. Sugden said Kalelkar indicated in her report that pulmonary edema, a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs, was the primary cause in addition to a narcotics overdose.
Kalelkar said the pulmonary edema was related to the overdose because she was having trouble breathing and her lungs weren’t working properly because her body was shutting down.
“The cause of death is very simple. She did not die of an asthma attack,” Kalelkar said, adding that Barzyk was healthy 21-year-old who didn’t have any major health issues.
Hillary McElligott, chief forensic pathologist for DuPage County, took the stand for the defense and discussed her findings into what she believed ultimately killed Barzyk.
After reviewing multiple documents that included autopsy photos, autopsy reports completed by Kalelkar, a toxicology report and microscopic slides of each organ, McElligott agreed the primary cause of death was a heroin overdose but said there was more to it.
She said while looking at the slides of the lung tissue she found cells and mucus blocking the small airways, which can cause constriction. Both findings, she said, were consistent with an acute asthma attack. As a result of those findings McElligott said the primary cause of death was a heroin overdose with bronchial asthma as a major contributing factor.
Sugden asked McElligott if the findings were present in overdoses based on her experience and she said she had not seen either in heroin or cocaine overdose deaths. She also said someone who is overdosing will appear as though they are falling asleep or passing out, whereas someone experiencing a severe asthma attack is more likely to gasp for air and know they are not breathing properly.
In cross-examination, Assistant State’s Attorney John Gibbons asked McElligott if the effects of heroin can be exasperated by asthma or if heroin could trigger an asthma attack, and she answered that both were possible.
Linder faces 15 to 30 years in prison if convicted of the charge. Based on previous convictions, he could receive an extended sentence that would result in 30 to 60 years in prison. Closing arguments will be given by attorneys Friday morning.