A Rockford man convicted of selling the fatal dose of drugs to a man found dead in his mother’s Wonder Lake home on Christmas Eve 2019 was sentenced Thursday to nine years in prison.
Before learning his sentence, 42-year-old Eric A. Williams stood and faced the family of Steffen Darnick, 31, who sat in the first row of a McHenry County courtroom and apologized.
“I’m sorry for you all’s loss, I’m sorry for you all’s loss,” Williams said, to which Darnick’s weeping mother Aimee Jones softly replied, “Thank you.”
In April, a jury found Williams guilty of drug-induced homicide for selling the dose of crack cocaine and heroin that killed Darnick.
Williams, who also was ordered to pay nearly $5,300 in fines and fees, is required to serve 75% of his sentence under the state’s truth-in-sentencing guidelines. He will receive credit for the 504 days he has been held in the county jail since his arrest.
He also pleaded to charges in Winnebago County related to his arrest in Rockford in connection to Darnick’s death. For that, he must serve probation. It was unclear Thursday what his probation will be in McHenry County for the drug-induced homicide.
Darnick, father of three young children, was just days out of an Arizona drug rehabilitation facility when he asked his mother to drive him to Rockford under the guise that he was paying off a debt to a drug dealer, according to trial testimony.
Instead, prosecutors said, he purchased about $300 worth of crack cocaine and heroin from Williams, which killed him.
“He is, in fact, a drug dealer,” Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Miller said in asking judge Robert Wilbrandt to sentence Williams to 15 years in prison.
Miller said this wasn’t a case where Williams was an addict who bought drugs for himself and a friend and his friend accidentally died from an overdose, which often is the scenario in drug-induced homicide cases.
Williams said he smoked some pot as a teenager and drank very little since being charged with driving under the influence in 2003, Miller said. Williams did not partake in hard street drugs, such as the heroin and crack cocaine that he sold, Miller said.
“He was selling drugs to make a profit,” Miller said, adding Williams has a long criminal history that began when he was 16 years old and included convictions for dealing drugs.
He has never been to prison, but given probation, jail time and second chances, “opportunities to make money honestly … and he always returns to this illicit way of making money,” Miller said.
“This was a for-profit drug dealer,” Miller said. “Steffen Darnick was nothing to [Williams]. He was a phone number and dollar bills. He didn’t even program [Darnick’s] name into his phone.”
Darnick’s mother tearfully said she is heartbroken and cries every day. She read a statement noting her son’s birthdate and the date he died, saying “Those are the dates my first true love was born and died.”
His drug addiction, she said, began when he was younger, fell down a flight of stairs and was prescribed pain pills. She described her son as loving, someone with a big heart who gave the best hugs.
“I will never again hear those words ‘I love you, mama,’” she said.
She keeps thinking he will call one day and say, “I’m just kidding mom. I’m on my way home,” she said.
When he returned home from rehab, he felt overwhelmed and made a phone call “ultimately” took his life, she said.
She spoke of finding him dead the morning of Christmas Eve, a vision that is “forever burned in my brain.”
To Williams’ mother, Jones apologized because she, too, was losing a son. To Williams, she asked would he ever give these drugs to his loved ones, his family or his children. Lives will be saved because he will be in prison, but who knows how many other people have died because he was selling them drugs, Jones said.
“They are just dollar signs to you,” she said. “Now it is your turn to pay the price. He was only money to you.”