A Hofstra University student who authorities said injected his girlfriend and himself with heroin in her dorm is facing a manslaughter charge in her April overdose death after allegedly waiting 17 hours to call for help.
Joseph Joudah, 19, a sophomore biochemistry major from Islip Terrace, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that also include criminally negligent homicide in the death of Olivia McClellan.
The timing of the indictment -- days before the Nassau district attorney election -- prompted Joudah's lawyer to say the "unprecedented" charges in a case involving consensual drug use were politically motivated.
"This was a tragic accident," defense attorney Kevin Keating said outside the Mineola court.
Keating told state Supreme Court Justice Angelo Delligatti he believes the evidence will show McClellan went with Joudah to buy the heroin and asked to use it, and that both students were addicts.
The charges drew a mixed reaction from the family of McClellan, a 19-year-old sophomore from California studying science on a partial academic scholarship.
Her mother, Cathy McClellan, said in an interview Friday she felt compassion for Joudah in what was "a tragic situation for everybody."
Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas, who is running for election against Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, said a careful investigation and deliberation of the evidence and case law led to the decision to bring charges against a student who left his girlfriend "in her dorm room to die alone."
"That young woman should not have been left alone in her room for 17 hours to die when she was in the obvious distress that she was in, no matter what his condition, no matter what his relationship, no matter what his age," Singas said.
While drug injection isn't enough for a manslaughter charge, Singas said there were aggravating factors that showed the defendant acted recklessly and negligently to cause McClellan's death.
Prosecutors said Joudah bought the heroin and injected his girlfriend with it at about 6:30 p.m. on April 18, knowing she had taken a prescription medication that day and once had attempted suicide by taking heroin.
McClellan immediately began having trouble breathing, her legs shook and her eyes rolled back, according to authorities, who said Joudah left the room at about 9 p.m. believing he was the only person who knew of McClellan's distress and its cause.
Joudah, then a freshman, tried several times that night and the next day to contact his girlfriend by phone or text message, but prosecutors said she never answered. At 2:15 p.m. on April 19, Joudah anonymously called campus security, and Hofstra officials found the victim dead in her bed, according to authorities.
Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said an autopsy found one needle mark on McClellan, which he said "does not indicate that she was a regular user." Both he and Singas pointed to a Good Samaritan law that protects people from being prosecuted for low-level drug possession charges if they call 911 to help overdose victims.
"The only person that knew of this condition of Olivia was Joseph, and all he had to do was pick up the phone and this could have all been avoided," Krumpter said.
A law enforcement source told Newsday that police wanted to bring criminal charges months ago, but Singas' office wasn't interested, so police reached out to federal officials.
But both Singas and Krumpter said Friday the investigation simply took time. Besides waiting for toxicology and DNA test results, Singas said her office consulted with federal partners and other prosecutors before bringing the charges -- a first for Nassau in such a case.
Joudah, who is facing up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count, is free on $10,000 bond.
The student, whom Hofstra has suspended, ignored questions from reporters on the way in and out of court. His father, a Hofstra computer technician, said the family was "distraught," declining to comment further.
Cathy McClellan, of San Marcos, California, said Joudah should be held accountable, "but I don't want to see his life ruined."
She doesn't believe her daughter was an addict.
"Parents are always the last to know, but she was very open with us," she said of a daughter she described as smart and beloved. "This was just a total shock to us."
With Nicole Fuller