Champagne man who admitted selling heroin gets 5.5 years: ‘Lifestyle got the better of me’ | Courts-police-firefighters

URBANA — An admitted heroin dealer who said he was dealing the highly addictive drug because he couldn’t find legitimate work was sentenced Thursday to 5.5 years in prison.

“I couldn’t find a job. I was denied unemployment. I drank and consumed. I wasn’t trying to be a drug kingpin,” Demario Johnson told judge Roger Webber. “I’m not a bad person. The lifestyle got the better of me.

Johnson, 40, who last lived in the 1200 block of Redwood Drive, Champaign, pleaded guilty in November to possession with intent to deliver 5.5 grams of heroin with a street value of $550.

To add to Johnson’s sentence, Assistant State’s Attorney Joel Fletcher presented Webber with testimony from Champaign County Street Crimes Task Force officer Jim Kerner about 33 grams of heroin that police found during a July 2019 search of a home in the 300 block of Kelly Court in Champaign.

Kerner, a member of the drug enforcement team for 10 years, said he found the heroin in a freezer and also found evidence that Johnson stayed home. In Johnson’s room, he found approximately $1,380 in cash.

This amount of heroin, Kerner said, would be associated with a “high profile” dealer, not a user.

“Heroin users don’t have a lot of money,” Kerner said. “They get sick if they don’t take it. It’s very hard not to use it daily. Half a gram a day costs $50 a day.”

Kerner said Johnson denied the heroin was his. Because several people had access to the drug, Johnson was never criminally charged with heroin possession.

The 5.5 grams he admitted to having were found by police during a search on December 1, 2020 at his Redwood Drive home. Also in the house, police found cash used by an informant and approximately $2,500 in cash.

To ease his sentence, defense attorney Jeff Cisco presented Webber with letters of support from three people vouching for Johnson’s character and a pay stub showing that Johnson had been consistently working at a good job since June.

Although he faced up to 15 years in prison, Fletcher pleaded for an eight-year sentence.

The prosecutor suggested Johnson’s job came late in the game.

“Weigh that against the pain the defendant has caused the community at large,” Fletcher said. “Drug use is difficult to deter. Selling drugs is not.

Fletcher noted Johnson’s prior convictions for aggravated assault, possession of a controlled substance — for which he was convicted in drug court but eventually went to jail — and obstruction of justice.

Cisco countered that the last conviction was in 2012 before Johnson showed up on police radar again in 2019.

“My client tried hard and turned around,” Cisco said, admitting Johnson had a drinking problem but took responsibility for the 5.5 grams of heroin found in his home.

“He knows he did something wrong and he has to pay. He doesn’t go out of his way to find excuses,” he said.

Webber said he accepts that Johnson did not intend to harm anyone, but said “it contradicts an understanding of the nature of the drug he was involved in”, citing this which he called a “shocking” number of overdoses in the community.

Webber agreed to recommend Johnson for drug treatment in prison and gave him until Jan. 31 to turn himself in to begin his sentence.

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