Murder by fentanyl? High hurdles to a conviction

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Wednesday, November 2, 2022
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Two people charged in connection with the fentanyl overdose death of a Fresno woman pleaded not guilty Tuesday.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Two people charged in connection with the fentanyl overdose death of a Fresno woman pleaded not guilty Tuesday.

One of them is the first person in Fresno County to be charged with murder for allegedly selling the deadly drugs.

Prosecutors in Southern California have filed some similar cases, but legal analysts call the charges "a stretch" and so far, prosecutors have gotten zero murder convictions in those cases.

Cassidy Gonzalez stood silently next to her attorney Tuesday as she answered to charges of murder and drug dealing.

Prosecutors accuse Gonzalez of murdering Jade Alexandra Dreith in January.

Her weapon, they say, was fentanyl, the powerful opioid that's up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

Investigators served several search warrants in the case and according to court documents, they seized eight cell phones and a tablet at Gonzalez's apartment, along with drug paraphernalia.

RELATED: Suspected drug dealer charged with murder after fentanyl-related death

Prosecutors also charged Alejandro Valverde-Nuno with being an accessory after the fact for allegedly trying to help Gonzalez cover up her role.

Legal analyst Tony Capozzi says dealers should be held accountable.

"If it's laced with fentanyl, it's a problem," he said. "The person who's selling it should be liable for what happens to the person who bought it and used it. It's more difficult when the person bought it and sold it to someone else."

Defense attorneys in the case say they haven't seen all the evidence yet, but one of them told Action News prosecutors might have a hard time proving who provided the drugs that killed the victim.

Even if Gonzalez sold the drugs, Capozzi says it could be hard to prove she committed murder unless she knew that particular pill was likely to kill.

He says an involuntary manslaughter conviction might be more likely.

"Involuntary manslaughter is committing an unlawful act that causes the death of another person," Capozzi said. "That might apply in this particular situation."

Prosecutors also added a warning in the drug dealing charges.

It reads like the warning people have to sign when they're convicted of DUI that opens them up to a murder charge if they do it again and kill somebody.

Legal analysts say that could lead to murder charges down the line for drug dealers.

But Gonzalez has no prior drug sales convictions, and Capozzi says the current charges in Fresno and other counties are probably political.

"I think what the district attorneys are trying to do is push the legislature to create some kind of law with this," he said.

Gonzalez could face a life sentence if she's convicted of murder.

If she's convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the maximum punishment is four years in prison.

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