Jury finds defendant guilty of reckless homicide
By Scott Bellile
Jeffrey L. Van Ark, Jr. was found guilty of first-degree reckless homicide in the 2014 overdose death of Brandon L. Shadduck in New London.
The jury announced its verdict Friday, March 31, following a four-day trial.
Outagamie County Judge Mark McGinnis will sentence Van Ark, 32, at a June 8 hearing.
During closing arguments Friday, Outagamie County Assistant District Attorney Peter Hahn argued that there were four conditions that were met to conclude Van Ark of New London was guilty: Van Ark delivered the substance, the substance was methadone, Van Ark knew it was methadone, and Shadduck consumed methadone and died as a result.
Van Ark’s defense attorney, Kevin Musolf, agreed the second through fourth points are valid, but said there is no way to prove the first point that Van Ark delivered the substance.
“There is boatloads of reasonable doubt Jeff didn’t do it,” Musolf said.
Van Ark took the stand Thursday, March 30, to testify.
During a cross-examination of Van Ark, Hahn questioned the reason Van Ark sent Shadduck text messages Oct. 1, 2014, in which he urged Shadduck to purchase his take-home methadone so he could use the money to pay his October 2014 rent. He said he would be evicted if he couldn’t come up with rent money.
Hahn said Van Ark would not have actually needed Shadduck’s drug money because Phyllis Van Ark, his mother, testified that she had told her son at the end of September that she would pay him the full $550 to cover his October rent.
When Hahn asked Jeffrey Van Ark why he still wanted the drug money, if it was because he didn’t trust his mother, Van Ark responded, “I just wanted to make sure.”
In order to “make sure,” Van Ark said he intended to sell Shadduck methadone going into Oct. 4. Van Ark testified that sometime on Oct. 4, he changed his mind about the sale. He said he still drove Shadduck to the Kwik Trip South ATM after 7 p.m. but did not bring the methadone in the car.
Van Ark further said that after leaving Kwik Trip, Shadduck asked him to drive him to a fast food restaurant. Van Ark said it was on the way there that he revealed to Shadduck he was not going to sell his methadone after all.
He said Shadduck turned angry and told Van Ark to drive him home, which he did. He dropped him off and left without following him into the apartment. It was there that Shadduck overdosed and died on his couch sometime that night.
The prosecution – Hahn and Melinda Joy Tempelis – argued the text messages and call records collected from Shadduck’s phone in 2015 provided enough evidence that all signs pointed to Van Ark. In messages Shadduck received in the weeks leading up to his death on Oct. 4, 2014, Van Ark offered to sell him his “take-home,” “mdone” and “done,” all terms for methadone.
Musolf, on the other hand, said investigators ruled out Shadduck’s best friend, Timothy Houk, as a suspect too early. Musolf acknowledged Houk might not have committed the crime, but regardless, he felt the one 14-minute interview New London Police Department conducted with Houk in March 2015 was not enough.
In the police interview footage, Houk showed signs of nervousness, did not maintain eye contact with police officers and did not tell the truth about whether he had contact with Shadduck the night of Oct. 4, 2014, Musolf said.
In contrast, Musolf said Van Ark did not show signs of nervousness and kept his story consistent from the day he was interviewed to the day he testified.
Hahn argued that Houk did not lie when he told investigators he and Shadduck didn’t have contact on Oct. 4, 2014. Shadduck made a seven-second phone call to Houk that night, which Hahn said is reason to believe it was a missed phone call.
Hahn said Houk missing or ignoring the call would be consistent with his testimony on Wednesday, March 29, in which he told the court he was avoiding Shadduck while undergoing his own drug rehabilitation. Houk said he did not see Shadduck in the two to three weeks leading up to his death.
Musolf, meanwhile, argued that because Houk was the last person Shadduck called before he died, that short call could have led to a meet-up where Shadduck bought Houk’s take-home methadone, since Van Ark wouldn’t sell him any that night.
Musolf suggested the $80 Shadduck withdrew from the Kwik Trip South ATM at 7:07 p.m. Oct. 4, 2014 – which investigators and prosecution believe was to pay Van Ark for the drugs – could have actually been to pay Houk.
There was no methadone bottle found in Shadduck’s home. Hahn said Van Ark could have sold 80 of his 90 milligrams of his take-home methadone to Shadduck for $80 – the street value for methadone is around $1 per milligram – and then saved the other 10 milligrams for himself to take Sunday morning, as the clinic requires. Shadduck could have consumed it in Van Ark’s car.
Musolf said 10 milligrams would not last in Van Ark’s body until Monday to pass a random drug test on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014.
Appleton Comprehensive Treatment Center, as the clinic is known today, regularly conducts random drug screens to make sure its patients are testing positive for methadone and aren’t selling it on the streets. The take-home doses are given to them on Saturday mornings to be taken Sundays because the clinic is closed on Sundays.
In a matter of minutes during Van Ark’s testimony on Thursday, March 30, Hahn got Van Ark to admit he had told more than a dozen lies throughout the police investigations and the trial.
Among those lies were that Van Ark followed clinic rules and never tried to sell his methadone, that he rarely spoke to Shadduck before his death, that all the two conversed about was fantasy football, that Van Ark never sold Shadduck any drugs, and that Van Ark never provided Shadduck any methadone.
After the trial, Tempelis showed satisfaction with the jury’s decision but still said it is a sad situation for everyone involved.
Musolf declined to comment.