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Gonic man found not guilty in fatal 2014 OD

Union Leader Correspondent

May 17. 2017 9:44PM
Joe Lee of Gonic was found not guilty of distributing drugs with death resulting Wednesday afternoon at Strafford County Superior Court. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Correspondent)

DOVER — A Gonic man accused of distributing a deadly dose of heroin in 2014 was found not guilty Wednesday afternoon.

It took a jury just two hours to determine that the state did not have enough evidence to convict 58-year-old Joe Lee. During his week-long trial at Strafford County Superior Court, only one person testified that Lee was the provider of the drugs which killed Jason Danner in 2014.

That person, Jennifer Harriman, is currently serving six to 12 years in prison for her involvement in Danner’s death. Her sentence was reduced by 18 months because she testified against Lee.

On Tuesday, Amanda Packer, who drove Harriman, Danner and his girlfriend to Northgate Apartments in Rochester to pick up heroin on June 23, 2014, said Harriman went into the building but she never saw who she got the drugs from. Packer said that as Harriman got out of her vehicle, she warned them about the strength of the heroin.

“Before she got out of the car, she said, ‘Be careful, it’s strong,’” Packer said while testifying. Packer said when she got the drugs home and went to snort them, she realized something was off because they smelled funny. Packer tried to call Danner’s girlfriend, Melissa Bacon, to let them know.

Danner injected himself with the heroin, and became unresponsive. 911 was called at 12:38 p.m. Danner died in the hospital on June 30, three days after being taken off life support.

During closing arguments Wednesday morning, Lee’s defense attorney, Thomas Reid, who is a former prosecutor, recognized the severity of the opioid crisis in New Hampshire. But he said the state did not provide any evidence Lee was in Rochester on the day in question, and there was ample evidence he was in Dover.

Lee was looking for a job, and had an appointment for 11 a.m. at CoWorx. Employee Leanne Payeur testified Tuesday afternoon that the first round of materials from Lee were manually submitted into their system and completed at 11:59 a.m.

Reid argued there are no phone records indicating Harriman called Lee to set up a purchase. He blamed a lack of time and funding for the missing evidence he said the state needed to charge the real dealer who provided the deadly drugs.

After the verdict was announced, Reid spoke with the press.

“I hope anytime there is a case like this, it brings awareness to everyone about how dangerous the opioid epidemic is, and we need to address it in every possible manner,” Reid said. “But we need to be very cautious in selecting the cases that are going to be prosecuted in this way, and make sure that we don’t take any shortcuts but we make sure the evidence is solid and corroborated. In this case, it just wasn’t, and evidence was pretty clear, ultimately, that Joe Lee was innocent of this charge.”

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