Using Manslaughter Charge To Deter Drug Dealers
The Warren County Sheriff's Department wants a drug dealer it recently arrested to face involuntary manslaughter charges after one of his users died.
It is a tool that is increasingly being used by area prosecutors to up the ante on alleged drug dealers.
Bobby Singleton III is accused of supplying the "gray death" (a combination of heroin, carfentanil, and fentanyl) that killed user Joseph Krouse on Saturday May 20, 2017. Warren County Detectives later set up a sting to buy more "gray death" from Singleton. After the Mason man brought it he was immediately arrested.
Lieutenant John Faine tells WVXU that if the toxicology report confirms the cause of death is from the drugs, the sheriff's department plans to present its case for involuntary manslaughter to Prosecutor David Fornshell. When Singleton was arrested he faced trafficking and drug possession charges.
When to play the manslaughter card
Tri-State police and prosecutors are increasingly using the involuntary manslaughter charge to deter drug dealers and keep them behind bars when they have hard evidence linking the dealer to the drugs that killed the buyer.
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser has used it a few times. He says, "I welcome it if I can prove it." But he points out there can be a problem connecting all the dots. Since the buyer is dead and drug dealers don't usually leave a lot of evidence around, there have to be credible witnesses who know who sold the drugs or there have to be unused drugs at the scene that a lab can compare to what's in the body of the deceased.
In March 2016 Hamilton County Assistant Prosecutor Seth Tieger told WVXU to take a case like this to trial, "we have to be convinced that the person's guilty of the crime and we can prove it in court." At that time four alleged dealers dating back to September, 2014 had been charged with involuntary manslaughter: Christopher Eaglin, Stephanie Eaglin, Kenneth Gentry, and Vance Morgan.
If the user is revived by the drug Narcan a conviction may be easier. Tieger said that person can testify against the dealer in court and the dealer can be charged with "corrupting another with drugs." That charge carries a penalty of two to eight years in jail without probation.
Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Greg Flannigan says there have been four or five involuntary manslaughter cases involving drug dealers and overdose deaths.
Some leave it to the Feds
In Kentucky, Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders says, "The only cases we've had like that were prosecuted federally because there is a federal statute on point. Kentucky has no statute specifically addressing drug trafficking resulting in death, thus it's kind of like trying to shove a square peg through a round hole."
"I wouldn't necessarily rule it out if we had a good case the feds refused to take, but thus far that hasn't been an issue," he says.
Southern District of Ohio Justice Department Spokeswoman Jennifer Thornton says, "I know we have dealer cases in which an overdose death specification is included. This enhances the potential sentence up to life in prison."
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