Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin speaks at a press conference in Riverside, Calif., on Jan. 18, 2018. (David McNew/Getty Images)
For the first time, a California jury has found a 34-year-old man guilty of second-degree murder for knowingly providing fentanyl to a woman who died after ingesting it.
Jurors at Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta Aug. 31 found Vincente David Romero, 34, of Temecula, guilty in the death of Kelsey King, 24, on June 16, 2020, also of Temecula.
Kelsey King, 24, of Temecula, Calif., died of fentanyl poisoning on June 16, 2020.
“This verdict is a testament to our unwavering commitment to protecting our communities, providing justice for victims, and holding those accountable who engage in the distribution of illicit fentanyl resulting in death,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in a news release.
The landmark ruling is a first for the state grappling with increased deaths related to the opioid. The latest numbers from the state show 5,961 deaths
in the state were attributed to fentanyl in 2021, which accounted for 83 percent of all opioid-related deaths in the state.
Riverside County in Southern California is the first jurisdiction in the state to successfully secure a guilty verdict by a jury in a fentanyl-related homicide trial. The county is continuing to pursue 22 other similar homicide cases related to fentanyl deaths.
In another case, in Northern California’s Placer County, as part of a plea agreement, a defendant pled guilty in July to second-degree murder for the death of a 15-year-old who died after the defendant sold her the drug.
Temecula resident Matt Capelouto was encouraged by the jury’s decision. His 20-year-old daughter died from fentanyl poisoning two days before Christmas in 2019 after taking half of a pill that she thought was Percocet.
“It sets a precedent,” Mr. Capelouto told The Epoch Times. “It shows that with a proper investigation, and if law enforcement is willing to put forth the effort, this can be done. We can hold these dealers accountable for murder.”
After his daughter’s death, Mr. Capelouto said he began reaching out to the county’s sheriff and district attorney, asking them to investigate the case as murder. With their help, they were able to get federal law enforcement involved and his daughter’s murderer is now serving a nine-year sentence in prison, he said.
“Justice doesn’t bring our kids back, but our kids are worth fighting for, and they deserve it,” Mr. Capelouto said. “The families deserve it, too.”
Los Angeles resident Matt Capelouto and his daughter Alexandra, who died from fentanyl poisoning two days before Christmas in 2019 at the age of 20. (Screenshot via YouTube/Matt Capelouto)
Mr. Capelouto now serves as president of Drug Induced Homicide
, an organization that raises national awareness about the effectiveness of criminal investigation and prosecution in reducing illicit drug deaths.
California legislation proposed this year called “Alexandra’s Law
,” named after his daughter, would have mandated drug dealers be issued warnings about being prosecuted for murder if their drugs killed someone.
However, the bill failed in the state Senate’s Public Safety Committee March 28.
In Mr. Romero’s case, prosecutors proved the defendant knew the drug was deadly and still provided it to a victim, meeting the threshold for a murder conviction.
During the five-day trial, the prosecution called 10 witnesses to testify and showed video footage in which Mr. Romero said he gave and split a pill known as a ‘blue’ or M30 with Ms. King, which he knew contained fentanyl, according to the district attorney’s office.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is more than 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more than morphine. It is often added to other illicit drugs to increase potency.
In court before the trial, Mr. Romero admitted to five more charges, including possession of drugs while armed, being a convicted felon, being a drug addict in possession of a firearm, and being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to the district attorney’s office.
He remains in custody at the Southwest Detention Center and is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 6.
Mr. Romero is facing a potential sentence of 15 years to life.