Drug overdose murder trial’s date determined
Appeals court’s ruling regarding Calvert man is weighed in court
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.