After Friday’s conviction of dentist and oral surgeon Dr. James Ryan, the family of Sarah Harris said “justice was served,” and that they hope this prevents anyone else from suffering her fate. Ryan faces up to 55 years in prison when he is sentenced on Nov. 7, according to the State’s Attorney’s Office.
Ryan, 50, of Clarksburg brought anesthetic-grade drugs, such as ketamine, propofol and diazepam, for his girlfriend, Harris, 25, which ultimately led to her fatal drug overdose in January 2022. Her story was told over the course of an eight-day trial.
“Maybe this will bring some awareness to the general population that this stuff does happen,” her father, Mark Harris, said in a Monday press conference at the Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Ryan was convicted of second-degree “depraved heart murder,” involuntary manslaughter, possession with the intent to distribute midazolam and distribution of ketamine and diazepam.
According to Justia, one of the largest online databases of legal cases, a depraved heart murder, “also known as ‘reckless indifference’ murder, involves a level of extreme recklessness or indifference to human life that leads to death. It typically involves actions that create a high risk of death, even if the perpetrator did not intend to kill anyone.”
Tom DeGonia, Ryan’s attorney, declined to comment on the case through a woman who answered the phone at his office when contacted by MoCo360 on Monday. During the trial, he argued that Ryan was just a “flawed individual” who fell in love—taking Harris on trips and buying her a car—and did not have “murder in his heart.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Harrison outlined the timeline during the trial: Harris met Ryan when he performed her wisdom teeth surgery in the fall 2020 and she began working for him as a surgical assistant. They continued to get closer and started dating in January 2021.
Over the course of their relationship, Harris moved in with Ryan and confided to him about her struggles with depression and anxiety. Ryan said to alleviate her mental health struggles, he provided her with IV injections of medical-grade drugs, Harrison said.
Harris died Jan. 25, 2022 of a drug overdose.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said that the prosecution showed that it was much more than just an unfortunate tragedy to power and control.
“He’s a man who was twice the age of the young woman he was living with, who was far more educated, who was her employer and ultimately also her drug dealer,” McCarthy said during the press conference.
Mark Harris said that the death of his daughter was an immeasurable loss.
“Sarah was a shining star in all our lives,” he said. “She was a caring and loving daughter, sister, granddaughter and friend.”
He said that there “were really no winners in this case” as he and his family lost Sarah Harris, and Ryan lost his freedom.
“Sarah’s truth was told,” said her older sister, Rachel Harris, during the press conference. “It wasn’t [Ryan’s] lies that were heard.”
Rachel Harris uncovered text messages between the couple on iCloud on her sister’s laptop. These texts included Sarah Harris’ requests for drugs from Ryan and telling him how the drugs made her feel incoherent.
Rachel Harris said she created a binder of the text messages to present as evidence.
“Without her, I do not believe we would be discussing this day,” Mark Harris said. “She’s a hero.”
Mark Harris also explained how this case demonstrates the importance of destigmatizing mental health and drug addiction in society.
“We’re still seeing reluctance to seek help, or in some cases, accept help that is available,” Mark Harris said.
While mental illness and drug addiction may have played a role in Sarah Harris’ death, her sister said it is important to not simplify it to that.
“She isn’t just a depressed, drug addict,” Rachel Harris said.
His daughter was being given drugs that she never should have had access to, Mark Harris said.
“Why is propofol still not on the FDA list of controlled substances? Why is it possible for oral surgeons to prescribe psychiatric drugs?” he asked.
“It gives us comfort that James Ryan is going to be taken off the streets,” Mark Harris said.