High Crimes

Daniel Otto and his girlfriend just wanted to get loaded one summer night. Neither of them imagined that she would wind up dead and he would be charged with murder.

Sands kept the methadone in a lockbox in her bedroom. She made a point of hiding the box, she adds, because she knew her son was experimenting with drugs. "I told him that the amount I was on could kill somebody else unless they were used to it," Sands says. "And I think he believed me. But I never showed him one of the bottles. I never showed him [the amount] I took."

At about 1:00 a.m., Otto went to the top floor of the two-story Bloomington townhouse and entered his parents' room. Sands was still up watching TV at the time, and the lockbox was stashed behind a closet door. Otto told his mother he was looking for cigarettes. Though she hated that he had started smoking, Sands gave him a few. She thought he was alone in the basement, playing the night owl the way she often did. She didn't know Thompson had returned.

When Otto went back to the basement empty-handed, according to the criminal complaint, Thompson again asked him to go upstairs to get the lockbox. He told her no, that he'd be getting a Burger King check the next day and he'd buy drugs for her with that money if she wanted. He told her she should just go to sleep. But Thompson persisted, asking him to retrieve the methadone for her.

Otto went into his parents' room a total of three or four times that night, Sands remembers, and each time he told her he was looking for cigarettes. Eventually, after Sands has fallen asleep, Otto found the lockbox filled with 12 empty methadone vials, one approximately half-full vial, and five prescription pill bottles. He took it downstairs. Then, according to the recitation contained in the criminal complaint, Thompson took the remaining 220 mg dose from Otto and drank it down. Otto took a few of his mom's prescription anti-anxiety pills, 1 mg Klonopins. He wanted to get high, too.

Both of them felt nauseous after ingesting the drugs. Thompson went upstairs to the main-floor bathroom and threw up. Afterward, she said she felt better. But later she announced she was feeling sick again. She grabbed a blanket, curled up on the small couch, and went to sleep. Otto, who was still feeling a little ill himself, covered himself with a blanket and fell asleep on a blue, half-inflated air mattress on the cement floor.

 

Luella Sands woke up around 10:30 the next morning and found her lockbox missing. She approached Otto, who was getting ready for work, and asked him if he knew anything about it. Otto went and retrieved the unlocked container from the basement. "Did you take the methadone?" she asked him. "Nobody took it, Mom," he assured her. He said all the bottles were empty when he opened the box.

Sands says Otto then told her that he didn't take the methadone because he knew the drug could kill someone. It was already gone, he assured her. Sands began to doubt her own memory, wondering if perhaps she'd miscounted the number of doses.

Thompson had spent the night at their home on a few occasions by then. That morning, when Sands took Daniel to work, he told her that Thompson was asleep in the basement. He also claimed the girl had been kicked out of her house, and asked if she could stay with them for a few days. Sands told him they'd discuss it later, though she knew she couldn't bear to say no. Sands says now that even if she forbade it, chances were Otto would have found a way to sneak Thompson in anyhow.

After dropping Otto off at the mall, Sands went downstairs to do laundry and tell Thompson she was leaving for the day. When she got to the bottom of the stairs, she could see the girl covered by a blanket on the couch. Thompson was on her right side tucked in a fetal curl. Sands tried to shake her awake.

"When I touched her, she was cold," Sands says. "I just knew right then. She had coded, and probably some time ago. I think I just started screaming, and I ran out of the house looking for help."

The family's phone had recently been disconnected, so Sands ran toward the complex's maintenance hut a few doors down. "I was just screaming, 'Someone call 911!'" When the cops arrived, they questioned Sands and Joe Otto for about an hour. During the interview, officers swabbed Sands's mouth for a DNA sample. She had been without her prescribed methadone dose for more than two hours, and at the end of the interview she started complaining of a severe headache.

"I felt like I was ripping at the seams," she says. "The whole thing was just awful. This poor girl and her family—I just felt so sick." The police called an ambulance for Sands. The officers then told Joe Otto they were going to the mall to talk to Daniel, and he begged to go with them. He didn't want Daniel to find out from the police that Thompson had died in their basement. The investigators told Joe he couldn't come, so he stayed home and waited to hear from his son while Sands was taken away in an ambulance. Thompson's family, meanwhile, had just been informed that their 15-year-old daughter was dead.

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