A Leonardtown woman received a judge’s approval on Monday to seek placement in an inpatient drug treatment facility, about 22 months after she was sentenced to eight years in prison from her guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter following a drug overdose death.
Lena Michelle King, now 23, originally was charged with second-degree murder in an indictment for the death of John Cleveland Jr.
“I want to help people,” King said Monday in a St. Mary’s courtroom, where a prosecutor concurred with the request by the woman’s lawyer, and the judge noted a change in King’s demeanor.
In late 2014, King was sentenced to 10 years in custody, suspended to the eight-year term with credit for about seven months of pretrial custody, mostly served in inpatient drug treatment.
“You turned to your family and seemed shocked that when you plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter you go to prison,” St. Mary’s Circuit Judge David W. Densford said at this week’s proceeding.
“We want to give you the tools to succeed,” the judge added, indicating the requested transfer to treatment could mean the difference between King being a casualty or a role model.
“If you were released today, [that] would be just about the worst thing that could happen,” the judge said. “You could [through long-term treatment] be the best walking advertisement for drug addiction and fighting it.”
At King’s plea hearing two years ago, the judge was told that King and Cleveland bought heroin on the streets of Annapolis the preceding winter, and that upon their return to St. Mary’s, she injected the drug into Cleveland’s hand and he went into a coma.
Cleveland was taken to MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital from the apartment on Lawrence Avenue in Leonardtown, according to police reports, and Cleveland was pronounced dead when he arrived at the hospital.
Densford said Monday, “When you’re an enzyme in the chemistry of drug addiction and death, we need to put an end to it.”
And as for getting out of prison, the judge added, “There are no automatic or quick paths to release. There is a hard path to diversion.”
Kevin McDevitt, King’s lawyer, said in court that his client’s path of drug addiction began with cigarettes and cold medicine when she was 9 years old, quickly escalating to prescription drugs and alcohol during her preteen years and ultimately to LSD, cocaine and heroin.
The lawyer said King has abstained from drugs for two years, earned a high-school graduation equivalency degree, is on minimum security in prison with no infractions, and wants inpatient drug treatment that she knows could continue past her parole eligibility date next spring.
“She wants to become a drug treatment counselor,” McDevitt said. “I think she’s a good candidate for this [inpatient] evaluation and placement.”
He added, “I know she’s remorseful,” of her role in Cleveland’s death, at an address that also was the focus of other police investigations.
“Three people died in that house in a six-month period,” the lawyer said.
The judge asked King about the availability of drugs in prison, and avoiding them.
“It was very hard,” she responded, “but I had to do what I had to do.”
St. Mary’s State’s Attorney Richard Fritz (R) said at the hearing that efforts had been made to contact Cleveland’s family about the court proceeding, and the prosecutor submitted a letter from Cleveland’s mother for the court’s consideration.
If King had not been prosecuted and confined, Fritz said, “It is my firm belief ... that she would be dead as a result of her own addiction.”
The judge agreed that King now be held at the county jail until she is placed in a rehabilitation facility.
“Ms. King, welcome back,” Densford said. “It’s a long process.”