CLOSTER, N.J. -- A Closter man described by his lawyer as “the face of the heroin epidemic” was sentenced to six years in state prison for his involvement in the overdose death of an Emerson woman.
Jesse Kurzweil, 28, “was a hockey player who was injured, and was prescribed medicine for pain,” defense attorney Alan Krauss told Presiding Superior Court Judge Susan Steele in Hackensack on Oct. 7. “He became addicted to heroin.”
Kurzweil pleaded guilty in July to strict liability for a heroin-induced death, under a New Jersey law that permits authorities to prosecute those connected with the chain that put the drug in the victim's hands.
Kurzweil sold what proved to be the fatal batch to Christopher Benvenuto of Old Tappan.
He, in turn, shared it with 47-year-old Doreen Leach, who died of an overdose.
“If I had any inkling what would happen, I would never have participated,” said Kurzweil, who never met Leach.
His father, Ben, told the judge: “Jesse and our entire family feel horrible for the Leaches, and their loss. Jesse is a young man whose life is ahead of him. He makes me proud to say that he is my son.”
Leach's mother, Janet, broke down in tears describing how she spoke to her daughter almost daily.
“Whenever I had a problem, she was always there to help,” she told the judge.
Her sister, Diane, described how difficult it to break the news of her death to her children.
“It turned their world upside down,” she said. “We didn’t lie -- we told them it was drugs. We wanted them to understand the tragedy.”
Although Kurzweil had spent a year in drug rehab and technically had no previous criminal record, Steele noted that he had a series of delinquency complaints filed against him, all reduced.
She said she also weighed what happened to Leach, along with the likelihood that Kurzweil would get in trouble again.
New Jersey has the highest heroin death rate in the country -- triple the U.S. average -- with more than 5,500 officially recorded in a little over a decade.