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DA sends message with homicide charge in overdose death

Jon Herrle allegedly told his intoxicated girlfriend that he was giving her cocaine, but that was a lie, and the crushed powder she snorted killed her, prosecutors said Friday at Herrle's arraignment on manslaughter charges.

The woman's death last September was the second time in two years that a girlfriend of Herrle's died from an opioid overdose at his home on Brighton Road in the Town of Tonawanda.

And now Herrle is living with a third woman, according to prosecutors.

After Herrle was arraigned on charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, prosecutors asked Erie County Judge Kenneth F. Case that he be denied bail, out of concern for her safety.

Case agreed to their request.

Herrle appeared somewhat bewildered at what was happening.

Just a couple hours earlier, Town of Tonawanda Detective Kevin Sweeney and other officers had surprised him when he returned home for lunch. He was arrested on an indictment warrant and now he was standing in handcuffs before a judge, still wearing his blue T-shirt, dark shorts with a blue handkerchief poking out of a side pocket and blue sneakers.

His only words to the judge were, "I want to retain George Faust as my attorney." Faust already was standing in as his lawyer and entered a plea of not guilty on Herrle's behalf.

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said the indictment represented a milestone in the fight to halt the deadly opioid epidemic.

"I believe this is the first time our office has charged anyone for a homicide-related offense in a fatal drug overdose, and I hope it is the first of many," Flynn said. "Let this be a message to drug dealers that if you sell drugs and the person dies, I am coming after you."

The name of Herrle's 38-year-old girlfriend was not released. Assistant District Attorney Nicholas T. Texido told the judge that the victim went to Herrle's house at 702 Brighton on Sept. 25 after she had been drinking. Knowing that the woman used cocaine, Herrle allegedly crushed an oxymorphone pill to make it look like cocaine.

"He passed it off as cocaine and she snorted it," Texido said. "When he found the victim dead on his couch and cold to the touch, he fled the scene and called his friend to check on her."

The friend arrived, discovered the body and called 911.

On New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, 2014, Herrle's previous "significant other" also died of an opiate overdose at his house, but Flynn said Herrle is not criminally implicated in that death.

But the two deaths were cause for concern.

"This is the second time in two years that a significant other has died in his house," said Texido in arguing for no bail. "And a third woman has moved into his house."

He also said that Herrle reportedly was planning to leave for Florida and might not return for future court appearances if he made bail.

But Faust argued that Herrle was born and raised in the Town of Tonawanda, inherited the home he lives in, has some equity in it and has no plans to leave the area.

"He's paying a mortgage, he has a home remodeling business, and I have no idea about others at the house," Faust said in referring to the other women mentioned by Texido.

Flynn said town detectives videotaped two interviews with Herrle in which he made statements that helped in building the case against him.

"I would have gone with the more serious charge of second-degree murder, but you have to prove intent, and that is almost impossible in these cases, but it is not difficult to prove recklessness. Someone is dying every day of a drug overdose," Flynn said.

Flynn credited Sweeney and town Detectives Chuck Card and Tim Connolly with conducting the investigation that led to the indictment against Herrle. Assistant DA Michael D. Smith is also prosecuting the case.

If convicted as charged, Herrle could face up to 15 years in prison.

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