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Fatal fentanyl overdose was ‘murder without using a weapon,’ Fresno County DA says

Fresno Bee 10/18/2022 Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno Bee

In a first-of-its-kind case, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office filed murder and drug charges against a woman who supplied fentanyl to someone who died of an overdose.

“This is murder without using a weapon,” DA Lisa Smittcamp said Tuesday. “These people know this pill can kill people.”

Cassidy Marie Gonzalez, 22, was due to be arraigned Tuesday on the charges, but her public defender asked for a continuance until Nov. 1.

Court records show Gonzalez is alleged to have been responsible for the death of 41-year-old Jade Alexandra Dreith, who died on Jan. 17.

Dreith’s relatives joined Smittcamp during a press conference Tuesday to announce the filing of murder charge against Gonzalez.

“No one deserves to die because of this,” said Sage Dreith, Jade’s sister. “She didn’t know she was going to die, she didn’t plan to kill herself or do anything like that. She was folding laundry, eating a snack and playing with her dog and she fell asleep and never woke up.”

Smittcamp said Gonzalez is accused of selling Dreith a counterfeit pill known as a “blue M30” that was laced with fentanyl.

Also connected to the case is Alejandro Valverde-Nuno, 25, who was charged with being an accomplice, possession of a controlled substance and sale or transport of a controlled substance.

His arraignment was continued until Nov. 1, also.

Gonzalez, who also faces two domestic violence charges unrelated to the murder, remains in the Fresno County Jail on a $1.4 million bail. Valverde-Nuno’s bail was set at $45,000.

Putting fentanyl pushers on notice

Smittcamp put fentanyl pushers on notice that there will be serious consequences for those causing overdose deaths.

“We will find you and catch you,” she said. “And this is not the last case we will prosecute for murder.”

The district attorney’s strategy for charging first degree murder is to use the murder by poison theory.

“If the person who supplied the substance knew it was lethal and knew it could be fatal and then provided it to someone, that’s murder,” Smittcamp said. “And voluntary ingestion is not a defense.”

Asked why this approach has not been used in other drug overdoes cases, including methamphetamine, heroin, or cocaine, Smittcamp said there hasn’t been anything as powerful and deadly as fentanyl.

“We have not had drugs that poisoned before,” she said. “Fentanyl is not just a drug, it’s a poison.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is also a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S.

Although this case is a first for Fresno County, Smittcamp said several other counties, including Riverside, Placer and San Bernardino, have filed murder charges in fentanyl-related death cases.

Local and federal law enforcement agencies in the central San Joaquin Valley have been extra vigilant in trying to catch suspected drug traffickers. The Valley, like the rest of the nation, has seen an increase in the number of overdoses and deaths related to fentanyl.

Earlier this summer, a multi-agency task force brought down a criminal network that was supplying thousands of fake oxycontin pills laced with fentanyl.

©2022 The Fresno Bee. Visit fresnobee.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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