Drug over­dose mur­der trial’s date de­ter­mined

Ap­peals court’s rul­ing re­gard­ing Calvert man is weighed in court

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JOHN WHAR­TON jwhar­ton@somd­news.com

An ap­peals court’s dis­missal of a man­slaugh­ter con­vic­tion from an Eastern Shore drug over­dose prompted a pre­trial hear­ing Fri­day in a St. Mary’s court­room for a Lusby man charged with the same homi­cide of­fense.

A judge made no de­ci­sion on the chal­lenge to the in­dict­ment filed against 32-year-old Des­mond La­mar Sloan, who also is ac­cused of

sec­ond-de­gree “depraved heart” mur­der and the dis­tri­bu­tion of fen­tanyl from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the June 2017 death of John Bryce Dar­ling II, a 34-year-old welder who lived in Lex­ing­ton Park.

Last month’s rul­ing by the Mary­land Court of Spe­cial Ap­peals found that pros­e­cu­tors in Worces­ter County failed to prove “the ex­is­tence of a causal nexus be­tween [a] de­fen­dant’s act and the vic­tim’s death,” in the pros­e­cu­tors’ ef­forts to link the sale of four small plas­tic bags of heroin to the death later that day of the pur­chaser af­ter he had con­sumed al­co­hol and heroin. The dece­dent “in­jected him­self with an amount of heroin that he chose,” the opin­ion states, not­ing dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios, and po­ten­tially dif fer­ent le­gal find­ings, if a “de­fen­dant de­ter­mined the dose and per­son­ally in­jected the vic­tim,” or if a “de­fen­dant adul­ter­ated the heroin, as with fen­tanyl, and the state can prove that the adul­ter­ation was the … cause of the vic­tim’s death.”

At Fri­day’s hear­ing in Leonard­town be­fore Cir­cuit Judge David W. Dens­ford, Sloan’s pub­lic de­fend­ers fo­cused in part on the ap­peals court’s rul­ing that “the causal chain was bro­ken” be­tween the sale and the death in the Eastern Shore case, while St. Mary’s pros­e­cu­tors in­stead stressed the rel­e­vance of Sloan’s case to the listed ex­cep­tion for fen­tanyl, a syn­thetic opi­oid with a far greater po­tency than heroin. De­bate in­cluded the pos­si­bil­ity that the ap­peals court might re­con­sider its de­ci­sion, as urged last week by the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, or that its de­ci­sion might be over­turned al­to­gether by the state’s high­est court, the Mary­land Court of Ap­peals.

“I be­lieve it’s bind­ing” on the han­dling of Sloan’s case, pub­lic de­fender Luke Woods said of the in­ter­me­di­ate ap­peals court’s rul­ing, later ask­ing that the judge “ap­ply this case to sit­u­a­tions that are sim­i­lar … [as it’s] the state of the law right now.”

Dens­ford noted the is­sue was still in tran­si­tion be­fore be­com­ing “set­tled law,” prompt­ing Woods to re­ply, “That’s a good law right now. That [fur­ther re­view] should not deny Mr. Sloan the ben­e­fit of the law as its stands right now.”

St. Mary’s State’s At­tor­ney Richard Fritz (R) coun­tered that in a “sub­stan­tial dis­tinc­tion” from the Eastern Shore case, Sloan ad­mit­ted dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Dar­ling’s death that “this is a pow­er­ful drug,” and that Sloan said, “I know it causes death. I shouldn’t have dis­trib­uted it to Mr. Dar­ling.”

Nei­ther Sloan nor Dar­ling knew what they were ex­chang­ing that night at a bar, Woods said.

The trio of judges re­view­ing the case from the Eastern Shore noted that its de­fen­dant’s trial left him in­car­cer­ated for heroin dis­tri­bu­tion and reck­less en­dan­ger­ment, and that their de­ci­sion in that case does not “say nec­es­sar­ily that drug deal­ers cat­e­gor­i­cally can­not be li­able for in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter when their cus­tomers die.”

Dens­ford said shortly af­ter Fri­day’s hear­ing be­gan, “If they say they are not go­ing to pre­judge other cases, who am I to do so?” and he sched­uled an­other pre­trial hear­ing on Sloan’s case for early June.

The court of spe­cial ap­peals’ opin­ion au­thored by Judge Dan Fried­man did delve into broader fac­tors in pros­e­cut­ing al­leged drug deal­ers for homi­cide of­fenses.

“The crimes must be … an act that is ‘nat­u­rally evil as ad­judged by the sense of a civ­i­lized com­mu­nity,’” the ap­peals court’s ref­er­ence to case law states, while not­ing that not all civ­i­lized so­ci­eties pro­hibit drug dis­tri­bu­tion, in­clud­ing the pre­scrip­tion and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sale in the United States of “drugs with sim­i­lar ef­fects and sim­i­lar risks to those caused by heroin.”

On the is­sue of proof of “a reck­less dis­re­gard for hu­man life” to show gross neg­li­gence, the opin­ion states, “we can in­fer the op­po­site — that a drug dealer wishes for his cus­tomers to re­main alive so that he may sell them more heroin.”

In St. Mary’s, where eight peo­ple have been in­dicted on homi­cide of­fenses from drug over­dose in­ves­ti­ga­tions in 2016 and 2017, two de­fen­dants brought to trial have been con­victed of in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter. Ear­lier last week, lawyers for Christina Grana­dos McCauley ap­pealed her con­vic­tion for that of­fense, and a mo­tion to set aside the man­slaugh­ter con­vic­tion in the case against Mark Steven Garner II also was filed.

An­other de­fen­dant, Tyreise Divron Nel­son, ac­knowl­edged through a plea agree­ment in Jan­uary that pros­e­cu­tors had ev­i­dence to sup­port the charge against him of in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter. None of the seven cases that have been re­solved have re­sulted in a con­vic­tion for the sec­ond-de­gree mur­der of­fense.

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