‘I should be dead’: Woman sentenced to 21 years in friend’s fatal heroin overdose in KFC bathroom

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Philadelphia Woman Sentenced To 21 Years In Friend’s Fatal Heroin Overdose In KFC Bathroom

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A Pennsylvania woman has been sentenced to serve 21 years in federal prison for providing a friend with the heroin that caused her fatal overdose inside a Kentucky Fried Chicken bathroom in 2014.

Emma Semler, 23, of Collegeville, wept as she was sentenced Wednesday in the death of Jennifer Rose Werstler, who died on May 9, 2014, her 20th birthday. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Semler kneaded a worn tissue with her hands as she expressed remorse for Werstler's death.

"If I could go back and change anything, I would," Semler said, according to the newspaper. "I should be dead as well. I don't know why I'm still here and not Jenny."

 
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Semler was convicted in December of one count of distribution, and aiding and abetting the distribution, of heroin resulting in death and one count of distribution, and aiding and abetting the distribution, of heroin resulting in death within 1,000 feet of a playground, a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said. After serving her prison sentence, Semler will be on supervised release for six years.

She was also ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, Semler and Werstler, of East Goshen Township, met at a drug rehab facility in November 2013, when both were teenagers. On the night of her death, Werstler contacted Semler through Facebook and asked her about obtaining some heroin.

Semler, who was 18 years old at the time, told Werstler she knew where to get the drugs and said she and her younger sister would meet Werstler. Semler loaned Werstler the cash for the drugs and brought a syringe for Werstler to use.

The three young women went to the Overbrook section of West Philadelphia, where Semler bought the drugs, the news release from prosecutors said. They then went to a nearby KFC, which was located within 1,000 feet of a playground.

"All three women went into the women's restroom, where Semler distributed a packet of heroin, along with a syringe, to the victim," the news release stated. "The victim injected the heroin and began to display symptoms of overdosing.

“When she realized that the victim was overdosing, Semler did not help the victim or call 911. Instead, Semler and her sister cleaned the bathroom of the evidence of their drug use and fled the KFC without contacting anyone regarding the victim’s condition, leaving her alone and fighting for her life on the bathroom floor.”

A restaurant employee found Werstler a short time later and called 911, the news release said. Paramedics and emergency room staff were unable to save her life.

Court documents show that Semler learned the next morning that Werstler had died.

“She promptly used the remaining heroin that killed Ms. Werstler the night before,” a sentencing memorandum filed by the defense states.

Jonathan Wilson, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Philadelphia field office, said in a statement that Werstler's death could potentially have been prevented if Semler had sought help.

"The fact that Semler left the victim alone as she was overdosing is particularly disturbing, as she most likely could have been aided by first responders," Wilson said.

 

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams agreed in her own statement.

"This defendant acted with complete disregard for another human life, the life of a supposed friend," Williams said.

She pointed out that Semler continued to use drugs and engage in other criminal behavior even after Werstler's overdose. The Inquirer reported that, at the height of her addiction, Semler was using up to 10 bags of heroin a day.

Her family and other supporters said she got clean about a year after Werstler’s death. Since then, she has worked to help other young women get sober, including working for a private drug rehab in New Jersey, the newspaper reported.

 

Court records show Semler was indicted in connection with Werstler’s fatal overdose in March 2017.

The records also include statements from several of Semler’s fellow Narcotics Anonymous members, who offer testimonials of how much progress she has made over the past several years, as well as the progress she has helped others make in overcoming their addiction.

"I've seen a change in Emma before this case began," Anne McCarty, Semler's NA sponsor, told the Inquirer. "At first she was angry, and it was, 'How dare there be blame (for Werstler's death)?' But within two or three conversations it became, "I can't believe I was there, and now I can't say sorry to Jennifer.'"

Semler’s attorney, Philip Steinberg, wrote in the sentencing memorandum that his client will always live with the regret of her role in Werstler’s death.

“Emma Semler will never shed the feeling of repentance over her role in the loss of her friend. Nonetheless, it is clear that Ms. Semler’s actions while released can only hope to pay homage to the tragedy of heroin addiction and the life of Jennifer Werstler. Perhaps one day, Ms. Semler’s efforts helping others to be their best sober selves may offer a shred of consolation to those who lost Jenny.”

U.S. District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter was unmoved. He accused Semler on Wednesday of not taking the case seriously.

Pratter pointed to Facebook posts that included photos of Semler lounging by a pool with friends and shopping at a mall on Black Friday -- despite being on house arrest.

"Teachers don't give grades and judges don't give sentences," Pratter told Semler, according to the Inquirer. "In almost every case, the sentence is what the person has earned."

Pratter also told Semler at one point that, while he heard her talking about how she had changed her own life, he had yet to hear her apologize to Werstler’s family.

Semler turned to the family members sitting in the gallery and mouthed, “I’m sorry,” the Inquirer reported.

"You're only sorry for yourself," the victim's mother, Margaret Werstler, responded as she sat there, clutching a framed photo of her daughter, who would have been 25 years old earlier this month.

Werstler again unleashed on Semler when it was time for the victim’s family members to speak.

"For almost five years, I have been asking myself and God, 'Why? Why my baby? Why did my only child die?'" Werstler said. "Why did you leave my child alone during the most important time in her life, when she needed help the most? Why didn't you help save her life?"

Werstler told the Inquirer after the sentencing that, although she felt relief, the day was not one of victory.

“There is no winning family,” Werstler said. “(Semler’s) family is going to be devastated. But they can at least visit her.”