-September 11, 2015
The Dallas Morning Post
“HE GOT HIS WISH”-Ominous details surround man’s death
Written by Isaiah Mitchell
Reporter for the Ellis County Press/Red Oak Record
Christopher Todd Erick, who died November 10 2012 at age 23, is the son of Kim Smith, the mother who is still searching for answers.
The description of Erick’s death officially is difficult to the changes and dubious claims made by the officials investigating and pronouncing his death. Erick died of cyanide poisoning at the house of his grandmother, Patsy Erick, in a case that was eventually determined to be a suicide—officially.
Kim Smith, who during our interview was holding back a very apparent emotional distress still lingering after almost three years, relayed the progressively darker and disturbing details of the young man’s death.
The story begins with Chris Erick’s emotional and physical decline. “He was such a promising student,” Smith said, speaking of both his high school academic experiences as well as his time at the ATI Career Training Center in Dallas. Chris, however, began “deteriorating mentally” before his death, his mother said. In 2011, he had begun taking prescription doses of Adderall, for his attention disorder. Adderall, a drug that is available only by prescription and is known to possibly impair cognitive reasoning (patients taking Adderall are advised not to drive or do anything that requires them to be alert), may have contributed to his deterioration. His family noticed the stark difference between his graduation from ATI in 2009 and his being forced to drop out of Eastfield College in 2012 for his inability to remember where his own classes were located.
Chris was hospitalized more than once in the time before his death. In December 2011, his mother hospitalized him at the Green Oaks psychiatric hospital in Dallas (after which he moved into his grandmother’s house), and he hospitalized himself in March 2012 at Millwood Hospital in Arlington—both stays were temporary, only lasting a few days. His grandmother and mother were constantly in conflict over his living arrangements—whether or not to live with his grandmother—and Pat is reported to have said “I would rather see him dead than in a hospital.” However, after being arrested for selling Adderall at the coercion of one of his peers, Chris began long-term hospitalization after appearing in court, November 8, 2012. He was ordered to begin November 12, but would never see that date.
Two days later, Midlothian police officers and Midlothian Fire Department personnel responded to an unresponsive person call at 340 Kirk Road, Midlothian. Police reports state that there was no sign of foul play, and that Chris died of natural causes (specifically a heart attack), despite the fact that the room was in disarray (both according to crime scene photos and the reports themselves), the presence of cyanide powder on Chris’ lips, and restraint marks on his torso. Verbatim, the report (written by Detective Daron Ehly, since demoted for alleged lying) stated that “there is nothing to indicate that this is a suicide.” However, due to Smith’s insistence, the County Medical Examiner performed an examination that led to the second official conclusion, that Chris’ death was due to cyanide poisoning. Originally, it was reported that Chris had purchased the cyanide, yet the confirmation e-mails and other pertinent information were sent to Pat, and the cyanide was even purchased with her own credit card. Furthermore, according to Dr. William McClain, Chris’ two heart attacks occurred well before his death, and one was caused by abuse. According to McClain, the evidence of a heart attack had “been there for some time,” and Chris had “small coronary arteries,” an effect of cyanide poisoning.
After an almost 2-year-long period of debate, the Midlothian Police Department conceded that homicide was a possibility, but they would not be continuing any investigations.
Police also discovered a living will that was classified as a suicide note; official handwriting analysis claimed that it was written by Chris, yet Smith claims they had no other samples to compare. Suspicious, Smith sent the sample to handwriting analyst Vernon Keenan in Georgia as a personal favor.
Keenan found that there were “definite forgery and alterations” in the note, and recommended Smith have an analyst in Midlothian jurisdiction analyze it.
Her suspicions raised further, Smith found that the local authorities had engaged in possible neglect and even intentional misconduct on several occasions. Including the mishandling of the cause of Chris’ death, the body was cremated before hair and tissue could be tested for long term poisoning; a full death investigation, which would involve trained death experts from Midlothian PD on the scene, diagrams of the entire room, inventory of the medicine case and other pertinent information was never conducted; former Detective Daron Ehly, who said on video that “Chris wanted to die, and he got his wish,” lied by stating that there was nothing to point towards homicide despite the fact that the department reversed its own position on that months later; under advice from Midlothian PD, the Texas Rangers investigated based on case reports alone that were later found to be irrelevant; and, possibly the most important, the father of the victim was an Irving fireman who was present when officers responded.
Steven Erick, who was quietly let go in the wake of Chris’ death, is the former husband of Kim Smith and has both family and old friends in the Midlothian fire and police departments. Smith believes that Erick’s influence may have been used to divert officers away from what she believes was a case that merited investigation. Smith turned to private investigators and other local law enforcement officials, all who stated the investigation was cut off prematurely.
For now, Smith remains in the haunting limbo of her memory of her son’s death, waiting for justice that has yet not even been attempted. The death of Chris Erick is deeply mourned by many of her supporters on social media, who stand by her; the list of those who side with Smith’s stance on the Midlothian PD’s misconduct is growing. To this day, the chilling words of Detective Daron Ehly—that “Chris wanted to die, and he got his wish”—bring to mind the question of whether the case was handled shoddily, or with conscious sabotage and nepotism in mind on the part of the Midlothian PD and Fire Department.
- September 20 , 2014
"DID MY MOTHER-IN-LAW KILL MY SON?"
by Sven Kristiansen
In 2010 Christopher Erick had the world at his feet. The 21-year-old high school graduate had just qualified as a massage therapist and was blessed with Hollywood good looks.
Two years later he was dead…from cyanide poisoning.
Initially the local police in the small Texas town of Midlothian said there were no signs of foul play and it appeared Chris had died naturally. The medical examiner had ruled Chris’ death natural by “heart disease” but his mother, Kim Erick Smith, insists he was murdered.
And she has pointed the finger of suspicion at her “controlling” former mother-in-law.
Christopher (pictured above) had spent the last few months of his life living with his “Grandma Pat” and after he died she responded to a text message from Kim asking: “How did Chris die?” by replying: “Naturally and peacefully”.
It struck Kim as an odd response, especially considering what she has since learnt.
Kim points out that death by cyanide is usually an extremely painful process and people do not just “die in their sleep”.
It is no secret that there was no love lost between Kim and her mother-in-law (pictured below, with Chris).
Kim separated from Chris’s father, Steven, in 1993 and they later divorced. She was awarded sole custody of Chris.
But when he was six years old his father used a faked custody order and “abducted” him from school and he vanished for six months.
Kim recalls: “It was sheer terror. I didn’t know if he was OK. We had never been away from each other for that long and I was concerned for his wellbeing mentally.”
Chris’s father and his second wife had moved to a new city and re-enrolled him in a new school but Kim eventually tracked him down and began a prolonged custody battle.
The years passed in an uneasy peace until Chris reached the age of 16 and, according to Kim, he was “kidnapped” by his grandmother and locked him into a “behaviour modification centre” in Conroe, Texas – a two-hour drive to the south.
Kim says: “It was a school for kids who were out of control and he couldn’t understand why he was there. He was nearly 18 before they would let him go.”
She broke down with emotion when she told totalcrime: “He came and found me. It was amazing, like he was never gone…”
He went to college and qualified as a massage therapist.
But the mind games were not over.
Patsy Erick set her grandson up in an apartment, which she paid for, and she gave him a credit card, describing it as an “early inheritance”.
Kim: “It was a form of control, through money. He was doing so well up until that point. He started partying and then he was prescribed Adderall, which is basically like speed.”
Kim says he developed terrible side effects, including auditory hallucinations and depression.
She says one of his friends had been “bugging him” to sell him some of his Adderall.
Eventually he agreed but it was a set-up.
He was arrested in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart supermarket and charged with supplying drugs.
He faced up to 20 years in prison.
Kim recalls him joking: “I’m too good-looking to go to prison” but she says the whole family was terribly worried.
Then in March 2012 the authorities agreed to drop the charges in a plea bargain – he would face no prison time but would have to go to a rehabilitation centre to treat his Adderall addiction.
Kim says Grandma Pat told her: “I will see Chris dead before I see him in one of those hospitals.”
She shudders at the memory of those words.
By June 2012 Chris (pictured left, with his mother) had been detoxed and was free of Adderall. But he moved in with his grandmother and his condition worsened.
“Chris began talking about the angel of death coming to get him and he would make it sound as if he was supposed to sacrifice himself as some sort of obligation in which he had no control. He was so confused,” says Kim.
In October 2012 he wrote on his Facebook page: “I know God has told me that my end is coming this year. And there is nothing I can do to change it. However the Gods appointed to oversee the task of this harvest have yet to expose (sic) an exact date or time at this point.”
Later that summer his girlfriend, Rachel, told Kim he was back on the Adderall.
Then on 23 October his grandmother told Kim he had tried to buy cyanide on her credit card but she had spotted it and cancelled it.
Three days later a parcel of cyanide did arrive at the house.
The police have told Kim her son bought the cyanide.
But she does not believe them.
She says on 29 October she discussed with Grandma Pat buying some paint for Chris for Christmas as he was an enthusiastic artist.
But her reply in hindsight sounds sinister.
“She told me to hold off and let’s wait and see how where he is nearer to Christmas,” says Kim.
A few days later Kim’s mother-in-law stopped answering the phone.
She messaged him on Facebook and asked him if he wanted to come to one of his cousins’ weddings. He did not reply.
On 10 November, as Kim and her daughter Megan drove to her niece’s wedding, they received a phone call from the police.
“They said he had been found deceased and it appeared he had died in his sleep,” she said.
Kim (pictured below with Chris and his sister Megan) says the next few days passed in a blur and on the day of the funeral she felt they were rushing to cremate him.
She says she asked the police: “Are you sure you have got everything from Chris’s body to test for poison?”
They said they had and were sure it was not foul play.
Chris’s body was cremated without him being tested for poison and all they had left to test was a vial of his blood. Without a body it was no longer possible for test for long-term poisoning since no hair or tissue had been secured by the police. But the medical examiner agreed to test the vial for cyanide and the test came back positive.
The police immediately sought to rule it a suicide. Two years later, without any obvious signs of an investigation, they were eventually forced to take it to a grand jury after a “public outcry”.
But last month the grand jury declined to indict anybody for the death of Chris Erick.
Midlothian Police Department were unavailable for comment.
But Kim has not given up and continues to press for the case to be reopened.
She is convinced her son was murdered.
-August 8, 2014, 3:49 PM
48 Hours/ Crimesider CBS News
MIDLOTHIAN, Texas - A grand jury chose not to issue an indictment in the case of a 23-year-old Texas man who died of cyanide poisoning nearly two years ago.
Ellis County District Attorney Patrick Wilson told 48 Hours' Crimesider that the grand jury, which was convened Wednesday, found no merit to allegations that Christopher Erick was murdered. He said a thorough investigation was done by his office and authorities and the case is now closed.
Erick was found dead in his grandmother's house about 30 miles from Dallas in Midlothian, where he was living at the time, on November 10, 2012.
Authorities initially said he died of natural causes. But about a month later, at his mother's insistence, the medical examiner tested a vial of Erick's blood and found that he had lethal amounts of cyanide in his system. His cause of death was changed to cyanide toxicity and the manner of death was changed to undetermined, Kim Smith, Erick's mother, told Crimesider earlier this week.
Smith went on to say that authorities did not launch an investigation into her son's death, even after the cause of death was changed to cyanide poisoning. Authorities told her that they believed he committed suicide, Smith said, but she is convinced her son was murdered.
Smith told Crimesider on Friday that she wasn't surprised that an indictment wasn't handed up. She said she was prohibited from talking about what went on during the grand jury proceeding.
"It's not over," she said. "There's too many unanswered questions. It's a cover-up."
Cmdr. Cody McKinney, of the Midlothian Police Department, who is the lead investigator on the Erick case, did not immediately return a call for comment Friday.
-August 6, 2014, 1:30 PM
48 Hours/ Crimesider CBS News
"Charges coming in cyanide poisoning death of Texas man?"
MIDLOTHIAN, Texas - A grand jury is hearing evidence Wednesday to decide whether criminal charges are warranted in the case of a 23-year-old Texas man who died of cyanide poisoning nearly two years ago.
Christopher Erick was found dead in his grandmother's house about 30 miles from Dallas in Midlothian, where he was living at the time, on November 10, 2012. Authorities initially said he died of natural causes. An autopsy found that he had two heart attacks just before his death.
But about a month later, at his mother's insistence, the medical examiner tested a vial of Erick's blood and found that he had lethal amounts of cyanide in his system. His cause of death was changed to cyanide toxicity and the manner of death was changed to undetermined.
Kim Smith, Erick's mother, told 48 Hours' Crimesider on Tuesday that the Midlothian Police Department did not launch an investigation into her son's death, even after the cause was changed to cyanide poisoning. She said authorities told her that they believed he committed suicide.
Erick had struggled with an addiction to Adderall, a pharmaceutical drug used to treat ADHD, and had issues with depression, according to Smith, who said that at one point, her son did make statements that he wanted to die. Smith said she tried to get help for her son and wanted him to move into a rehab facility, but his grandmother was against it and insisted that he move in with her.
Smith said that once her son moved in with his grandmother - the mother of Smith's ex-husband - her son became withdrawn and confused.
Smith told Crimesider she is convinced her son didn't commit suicide. She thinks he was murdered and launched a website, a Facebook page and a Change.org petition to push for an investigation.
"The police made me feel crazy," Smith told Crimesider. "Finally, last week, I got a letter from the district attorney that he was taking it to a grand jury to let them decide."
Ellis County District Attorney Patrick Wilson did not immediately return a call for comment on Tuesday. A woman who answered the phone at his office did confirm that a grand jury was being convened Wednesday to consider the case.
Cmdr. Cody McKinney, of the Midlothian Police Department, also confirmed to Crimesider that the grand jury was being convened. McKinney declined to discuss any details of the case, citing grand jury rules and regulations.
"A Murder Mystery in Midlothian "
By Molly Ready
Was it a natural death, a suicide or murder?
Here’s what we know. When police were called to the residence of 23year-old Christopher Erick on November 10, 2012, he was dead. A "will" was provided by the last person to see Chris alive and a bottle of Gatorade was found beside the bed. While pictures were taken of the room, nothing was secured, the Gatorade was never bagged nor was its contents analyzed. It was determined rather quickly that the healthy, athletic young man died of natural causes. Oddly, his "will" asked that he be cremated and so, four days after his death, Christopher was cremated.
Two people who had been closest to Christopher at the time of his death told others that Christopher died "naturally" and "peacefully," but then changed the story to an employer to say that Christopher had committed suicide and it was asked that no one else know about the young man’s untimely death.
Meantime, Christopher’s mother, Kim Smith had had an uneasy feeling about her son’s welfare weeks, days and even hours before his death. She had reportedly told several people that she feared for her son’s life as he was living in a controlled environment in which phone messages were never given to him, finances were withheld and he had little say in his own day-to-day living arrangements. He had been recovering from an addiction from the prescription Adderall and medical help had been refused on his behalf. Three days before his death, a counselor had attempted to reach out to Christopher only to be rebuffed once again.
What can only be explained as mother’s intuition, Kim pursued the Midlothian Police Department. She asked that the department request that the coroner’s office run a toxicology report on Christopher’s blood and was assured that had been done. But when the coroner contacted Kim to tell her that Christopher had died from a heart condition, several question sprang to mind. Why would other people in Christopher’s life insist that he had committed suicide? And on what basis? What 23 year old writes out a will? Why hadn’t the Gatorade been bagged for possible evidence since no one at the time could have known why an otherwise healthy young man was suddenly dead? But the biggest question was this: When Kim asked what, if any, chemicals or toxins were found in her son’s blood, the coroner replied that he had not tested the blood because no one had asked him to Despite the Midlothian Police Departments assurances (something Kim has in print), this was never done and since Christopher had been cremated, there was no way to exhume his body. But Kim got lucky – if you can call it that. The coroner still had a vile of Christopher’s blood and was able to run tests and one month later came back with the results. Christopher’s blood tested positive for lethal doses of cyanide and the coroner assured Kim that there was nothing quiet or peaceful or natural about the way he died. In fact, he suffered unfathomably for eight to ten hours before he succumbed to the poisoning. Did the person who was in the house at the time of his death hear him in his final hours of agony?
There were more questions. What 23 year old decides to kill himself with cyanide and where did he get it? New evidence was revealed that Christopher had complained to his girlfriend of unexplained painful blisters on his tongue and in his mouth. This would be the same girlfriend who reported difficulty communicating with Christopher as he never received any of her messages. But if he knew he was poisoning himself, why would he complain about it?
And why had the people living with Christopher who had so quickly assured others that he had died "naturally" and "peacefully" not attended Christopher’s memorial service, something that even the funeral director reported to be odd?
As more questions than answers appeared, a group of Christopher’s friends contacted the Midlothian Police Department asking for further investigation. They could not understand why their friend was suddenly dead, nor did they understand the final months of his life. They were told the case was closed while just days before Kim was told by the MPD that the case was open and on-going.
Meantime, Kim conferred with a well-respected cardiologist who upon looking at the coroner’s report immediately determined that something "traumatic" had occurred to the heart to weaken it rather than it being a hereditary heart condition that killed Christopher. Something like the slow poisoning of cyanide? The coroner’s response? Yes, it could have been death by chronic poisoning. And suddenly, Christopher’s "will" was called a "suicide note."
While all this was happening, something else was occurring that was quite ominous. Kim used her son’s Facebook page to communicate with his friends but posts would disappear. In fact, in the first few days following her son’s death, Kim used the Facebook page to provide information about the memorial only to find that within minutes or hours of a post, her messages were mysteriously deleted. When Christopher’s little sister left a private message on his page as a quiet, personal way of grieving his loss, she discovered that someone had viewed the message. Was this the reason his friends didn't show to his memorial? But her biggest question was where had Christopher gotten the cyanide? Never mind the extreme unlikelihood that he would decide to slowly poison himself and then complain to his girlfriend about the side effects and never mind that no one close to him believed he would do such a thing, where did it come from?
While the Midlothian Police Department claimed to have checked leads on that question, it was Kim who discovered the purchase of cyanide from Thailand on Amazon.com. Later, Kim would receive a notification from Facebook and her email account that the last person to have seen Christopher alive was indeed the same person who accessed Christopher’s personal Facebook account. Shockingly, it is also the same person whose credit card was used to purchase the cyanide on Amazon.com.