Dupo man acquitted in heroin-related death

Jacob Nelson

A Dupo man was acquitted Thursday on the federal charge alleging he provided a fatal dose of heroin to a Columbia man in July 2011. 

The jury did convict Jacob D. Nelson, 32, on three other counts related to keeping a drug house with weapons inside.

Closing arguments were heard Thursday morning at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis, Judge Patrick Murphy presiding. The trial began Monday.

Nelson was charged with heroin distribution resulting in death, maintaining a drug-involved premises, and two counts of possession of a firearm by a user of controlled substances in connection with the overdose death of 36-year-old Jeremy Moskodauz in Columbia.

Nelson was charged in February 2012. 

Nelson faced life imprisonment if convicted on the heroin-induced death distribution charge. He now faces up to 20 years in prison following his conviction on the other charges. Sentencing has been set for July 22.

The Columbia Police Department and Drug Enforcement Administration investigated the case after Moskodauz was pronounced dead inside his home.

The case was handed to the jury at 10:18 a.m. on Thursday, after closing arguments were presented by prosecuting U.S. attorney Robert Garrison and defense attorney John Stobbs II.

“It has been an interesting trial,” Judge Murphy said before putting the court in recess.

In his closing, Garrison called Nelson a heroin and Vicodin addict who was also “rolling in dough” after conducting thousands of drug deals from his heavily armed Dupo home. An assault rifle and pistol were seized from the home at 122 N. Third Street, along with two large boxes of ammunition.

Nelson eventually gambled away much of his drug sale earnings at area casinos, the prosecutor said. 

“He sells death and misery,” Garrison said. “And he’s very good at it.”

But on July 8, 2011 — the day Moskodauz died from what medical professionals testified was a heroin overdose — “the ball finally landed on double zero for Jacob Nelson,” Garrison said.

“He sold thousands of times for thousands of dollars,” Garrison concluded. “Sooner or later, you’re going to kill somebody.”

Representing Nelson, attorney Stobbs pointed to heart issues Moskodauz had prior to his death, as well as a combination of drugs found in his system (alcohol, Vicodin, Xanax and cannabis) along with the heroin

“On July 8, Jeremy was a walking time bomb,” Stobbs said. “Tick, tick, tick.”

Stobbs told the jury that prosecutors couldn’t prove the heroin was supplied by his client, nor that it was the sole cause of death in this case.

The defense tried to convince the jury there’s doubt as to who actually sold Moskodauz the heroin that day, claiming a man named Brian Wilkes may have sold it.

Garrison disputed that as speculation in his rebuttal, and said all evidence points to Nelson as the dealer. The prosecutor dismissed defense talk of Moskodauz’s heart troubles as a “red herring” used by the defense to draw attention away from the true cause of his death. 

Garrison also said the finding of other drugs in the victim’s system, according to a doctor who testified, was like the “difference between stubbing your toe and getting hit by a bus” — that bus being heroin. 

Moskodauz appeared “healthy and normal” all day until after ingesting the heroin purchased that afternoon, the prosecutor added.

After nearly two hours of deliberation, the jury sided with the defense on the heroin distribution charge.

“This is what the justice system is all about,” Stobbs said on behalf his client. “We had a fair trial, and that’s all you can ask for.” 

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