Vicente David Romero appears in court in a file photo. (Courtesy of Riverside County District Attorney's Office)
In a landmark case for California, a Temecula man who provided a pill containing fentanyl to a 26-year-old woman resulting in her fatal overdose was sentenced Nov. 3 to 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder, authorities said.
Vicente David Romero, 34, was found guilty by jurors Aug. 31 in connection with the 2020 death of Kelsey King.
The case marks the state’s first jury conviction of a fentanyl-related murder, prosecutors said.
“The first day that Mr. Romero met Kelsey King, was the day she died,” said Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin to The Epoch Times. “He ignored everything he knew about this drug, and he played with his own life and the life of Kelsey King, and it had fatal consequences.”
The district attorney’s office issued a press release after the conviction saying that 10 witnesses had testified and jurors were shown body-worn camera footage where Mr. Romero admitted to providing and sharing a pill referred to as a ‘blue’ or M30 with King, which he knew to contain fentanyl.
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin speaks at a press conference in Riverside, Calif., on Jan. 18, 2018. (David McNew/Getty Images)
“He admitted that he knew the dangers and then he went ahead and furnished the drug to her anyway,” Mr. Hestrin said Friday. “That was a critical piece of evidence.”
In addition to the murder conviction, prosecutors said Mr. Romero admitted to five additional charges including possession of drugs while armed, and being a convicted felon and drug addict in possession of a firearm.
Additionally, Mr. Hestrin said the case has now set legal precedent.
Mr. Romero’s case marked the first trial among the county’s 25 pending fentanyl-related murder cases, the most in the state, according to Mr. Hestrin.
He said the significant increase in fentanyl-related deaths in recent years has prompted some statewide to consider stricter measures.
“Even before this verdict, many of my colleagues around the state, and many of those in law enforcement, have realized that we need to do something. The fentanyl epidemic is raging across California. And we can’t just sit back and do nothing,” he said.
A photo of 14 year old Alexander Neville who died after accidentally taking fentanyl is held in Irvine, Calif., on April 28, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
In a similar case, a Placer County man pleaded guilty earlier this year to the second-degree murder of a 15-year-old girl who died shortly after he gave her a pill laced with fentanyl.
In Riverside County, fentanyl deaths rose from 52 in 2018 to 502 in 2022—an approximately 860 percent increase in five years—according to data released by the California Department of Public Health.
Statewide, the data indicate an over 670 percent increase in such deaths over the same period, with the death toll reaching 6,095 in 2022.
“What’s driving [the increase in deaths] is that synthetic opioid, like fentanyl, is very cheap to make, to produce, and to distribute compared to all the other drugs,” Mr. Hestrin said.
He additionally said his office and the county have engaged in preventative measures, including billboards, social media, and school educational programs, to combat the crisis.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is more than 50 times stronger than heroin, and 100 times stronger than morphine. It can be lethal in doses as little as 1/2,500th of a teaspoon and is listed as the leading cause of death among Americans ages 18-45, according to Center of Disease Control and Prevention.