Another delay in fatal overdose trial

Joshua Wozniak

La PORTE — A Michigan City man accused of supplying his father with a fatal dose of heroin will wait until early next year to have his case heard in front of a jury.

La Porte County Superior Court 1 Judge Michael Bergerson granted a motion Thursday to continue the scheduled jury trial for 27-year-old Joshua James Wozniak until Jan. 13, 2020. The court had initially slated the case to go to trial beginning Sept. 30.

Prosecutors have charged Wozniak with one count of dealing a controlled substance resulting in death, a Level 1 felony. He faces between 20-40 years in prison if convicted.

The charge stems from the overdose death of Wozniak's 67-year-old father, Larry Wozniak, which occurred at a Springfield Township residence in the early morning hours of Jan. 24, 2019, according to the probable cause affidavit in the case.

Police said the two men, along with Joshua Wozniak's girlfriend, had been using heroin and crack cocaine for several hours before the older man's death. Police say Joshua Wozniak had purchased the narcotics from a source in South Bend, using his father's money.

According to the police report, Wozniak said he saw his father inject himself with a dose of heroin the younger man had given him. Afterward, he went upstairs for a while, and when he returned, he found his father dead, with a needle hanging out of his arm. 

Police began a criminal investigation into the incident after a witness told the family the elder Wozniak had died more than eight hours before his son called 911.

Wozniak, who has pleaded not guilty, maintained his innocence during a pretrial hearing before Judge Bergerson on Aug. 29.

Although Wozniak indicated during the hearing that he was prepared to stand trial in September, his attorney, David Payne, requested a continuance. Payne said the delay would give the defense time to study the toxicology results of Larry Wozniak's autopsy, which a coroner completed last week after the body was exhumed.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bethany Beckman told the judge the doctor had submitted preliminary results of the study, but authorities are still waiting for the final report. She expects to have the document within 10 days, she said.

The continuance comes several months after Bergerson delayed the case in April, after Wozniak's attorney cited issues with evidence discovery. Among other requests, the defense asked that authorities exhume Larry Wozniak's body for autopsy.

Wozniak confirmed to Bergerson that he agreed with the continuance – and understood that he would remain in custody while awaiting trial. Despite the defendant's assurance, the judge admonished both sides of the case for the second delay in the proceedings. 

"I don't like how the defendant will continue to stay in jail when he is presumed to be innocent and he is telling me that he is," the judge said.

Wozniak remains incarcerated at the La Porte County Jail on a cash-only bond of $100,000. The judge set a new final pretrial court date for Dec. 12.

Thursday's hearing, along with the entire Superior Court 1 docket, was held in La Porte Circuit Court because Bergerson's courtroom in Michigan City is being used for a trial being presided over by a special judge.

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