A former Hofstra University student who authorities said injected his girlfriend and himself with heroin before her April 2015 overdose death in a school dorm isn’t likely to go to prison after an appeal for mercy from the victim’s family.
Joseph Joudah, 19, of Islip Terrace, pleaded guilty Monday to criminally negligent homicide during an appearance in Nassau County Court in Mineola, court records show.
But Joudah’s attorney, Kevin Keating, said Tuesday that a judge and prosecutors had agreed to sentence Joudah to 5 years’ probation as a youthful offender — meaning his criminal record will be sealed.
He was a sophomore biochemistry major at the time of his October 2015 indictment and faced charges that included manslaughter.
“This tragic accident between two consenting college students who cared deeply for each other once again demonstrates the devastation wrought by heroin,” Keating said in an interview.
From the start, Joudah’s arrest had drawn a mixed reaction from the family of victim Olivia McClellan, a 19-year-old sophomore from California studying science on a partial scholarship when she died.
Her mother, Cathy McClellan, had expressed compassion for Joudah, saying she wanted him to be held accountable but didn’t “want to see his life ruined.”
On Tuesday, Cathy McClellan said in a telephone interview from her California home that her family had lobbied for Joudah to get youthful offender status and “saw absolutely no benefit” to him being behind bars.
“She would not have done it against her will. This is something they decided together and she ended up dying from that,” McClellan’s mother said of the heroin use. “It was an accident and she is just as at fault as he is. It was not something that he intentionally did to hurt her.”
Nassau prosecutors had alleged Joudah bought the heroin and injected McClellan with it, while knowing she’d taken a prescription medication that day and also once had attempted suicide by taking heroin.
Prosecutors also had said the victim immediately had trouble breathing, and had other physical symptoms of distress. But they alleged Joudah later left the room and also waited 17 hours to call for help while McClellan died alone.
But the victim’s mother said Tuesday that autopsy results gave the family reason to believe her daughter was fine when Joudah left her dorm but died later in her sleep.
The mother said while her family continues to grieve, she believed their pain would be more intense if they sought a different resolution to the prosecution of Joudah. She said he has been through rehab and continues to test negative for drugs.
“We feel at peace,” McClellan’s mother said. “Hopefully, he can move on with his life.”
Keating said his client is not currently in college but wants to return to his studies — at an institution yet to be determined — in the fall.
Prosecutors confirmed Joudah could face a prison sentence of up to 4 years if he violates terms of the probation sentence he’s expected to get Sept. 13.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas also released a statement Tuesday saying the student’s death could have been prevented by a timely call for medical help.
“This case demonstrates the need to educate everyone — particularly our young people — about New York’s Good Samaritan Law that protects both the victim and the caller from most possession charges when you call 911 for help,” Singas said. “There is no escaping the fact that Olivia McClellan would likely be alive today if the defendant had called for help.”
A Hofstra spokeswoman said the school had no comment on the case.