By Brett Rowland
SYCAMORE – A judge on Tuesday sentenced two men who pleaded guilty to drug charges in connection with a Northern Illinois University student’s 2015 death to probation.
Michael R. Kielhack, 21, of the 600 block of Woodbridge Drive in Elgin, and Michael Z. Montgomery, 20, of the 1800 block of Abriter Court in Naperville, were initially charged with giving the hallucinogenic drug LSD to a Northern Illinois University student who later fell to his death from a dormitory window. In October, both pleaded guilty to amended charges of possession of a controlled substance as part of a deal with prosecutors. The crime typically is punishable by one to three years in prison.
DeKalb County Chief Judge Robbin Stuckert sentenced the two former NIU students to a two-year form of probation that could spare them felony convictions.
"Those decisions that you made that night had horrible, horrible consequences," the judge said. "I have been the presiding judge over [drug] treatment court since 2006, and I cannot tell you the number of lives that have been destroyed by the use of drugs, by the use of alcohol. ... If there was one thing I wish I could do with this sentence, it’s bring back this individual whose life was lost for making a poor decision himself that night, but we all know that I cannot do that. So what I have to look at is a sentence that is just."
A third man charged in the case – Thomas P. Quirke, 20, of the 200 block of Oakhurst Drive in Aurora – is accused of selling the drugs to Northern Illinois University students before the death of 19-year-old NIU geology major Oluwarotimi "Timi" Okedina. Quirke, who pleaded not guilty in May, is next due in court Dec. 12.
Okedina fell Sept. 26, 2015, from an 11th-floor window in a room at Stevenson Towers C building. Toxicology reports showed he had LSD and marijuana in his system when he died.
After Okedina’s death, police learned that he and other students had taken LSD that night. Assistant State’s Attorney Alicia Caplan, who prosecuted the case, said Okedina had a bad reaction to the drug and locked himself in a dorm room. Police said he removed a window screen before accidentally falling to his death.
At a hearing Tuesday, Caplan asked the judge to consider all sentencing options available under the law. She didn’t request a specific punishment.
"I understand the charge is possession of a controlled substance, the circumstances that surround these cases are much larger than that," the prosecutor said. "It’s an incident that caused someone’s death."
Caplan said the case was unusual and acknowledged there were other, mitigating factors that needed to be considered.
"It’s unfortunate that a lot of college students view drugs as something they can do that is recreational, that it’s something that no one gets hurt, that it’s something that’s fun to do on weekends," she said. "Making those decisions can have very serious consequences. In this case, someone died."
Caplan said that while Kielhack and Montgomery didn’t think that what they were doing at the time could result in the death of one of their classmates, that’s what happened.
Kielhack had asked several friends if they wanted to take LSD that weekend and asked Montgomery if he knew anyone who could get the drugs. In turn, Montgomery contacted Quirke, who drove to DeKalb and gave LSD to Kielhack and others, including Montgomery, Caplan said.
Prosecutors had initially charged all three men with unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, which typically carries a sentence of four to 15 years in prison.
Both Kielhack and Montgomery made brief statements before they were sentenced. Kielhack said that losing a friend "was the most devastating thing."
"It will be with me for the rest of my life. This led to me never experiment with drugs ever again," he said. "Every day I wish it had never happened."
Montgomery called that night the "biggest mistake" he’d ever made, and said he had learned from it.
"I thought I was a friend to someone ... I think about it every day," he said. "It could happen to me, it could happen to anybody."
If both men successfully complete probation, they could ask a judge to remove the conviction from their record.
In addition to probation, Stuckert ordered both men to get drug and alcohol assessments, submit to three random drug tests and perform 30 hours of community service. They also will be required to pay fines and other costs. Both also will have to prove that they are working or enrolled in college courses.
Kielhack’s attorney, David Camic, and Montgomery’s attorney, Bob Nolan, both praised Stuckert’s fairness in sentencing after the hearing.