Lawyers were set to meet with a judge after press time Tuesday afternoon to schedule a trial where jurors will determine not only whether a California man distributed a dose of fentanyl to his friend who later died of a drug overdose, but also whether the act constitutes a murder.
Prosecutors allege Andrew Gordon Duncanson, 25, dealt a lethal dose of fentanyl to Christian Scott Ellis, who died last May of what the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled as a fentanyl overdose. Ellis was found with a capsule of fentanyl near his body on that day, prosecutors said in court at a previous hearing.
Duncanson’s lawyers have argued in court that he had already been convicted of possession of narcotics for a search incident served four days after Ellis’ death, and he served a sentence in the county jail after which he “turned his life around,” gaining a plumbing apprenticeship and picking up no new charges since his arrest.
His legal team, La Plata lawyers Hammad Matin and Jeremy Widder, also filed a motion to dismiss the case based on double jeopardy grounds that the alleged fentanyl was from the “same stash” as the drugs which Duncanson had been convicted of possessing days later. St. Mary’s Circuit Judge David W. Densford has not issued a ruling on that motion as of press time Tuesday.
Arguments in the trial are expected to run today through this Friday, when jurors are expected to deliver their verdict.
Witnesses subpoenaed to be called in the trial include a handful of sheriff’s deputies who investigated Ellis’ death, crime lab technicians and a representative from the chief medical examiner’s office.
State’s Attorney Richard Fritz (R) and Deputy State’s Attorney Jaymi Sterling have stated that a recent ruling from the state’s highest court supports their theory that supplying a lethal dose of drugs can lead to a second-degree murder conviction, a tactic which they attempted in eight cases in 2017, and stopped pursuing after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled against an Eastern Shore man’s manslaughter conviction for dealing heroin to a man who later died of an overdose.
But last summer, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed that decision.
The summer ruling determined a similar case constitutes gross negligence for the charge of negligent manslaughter, which holds a lower, but not clearly defined standard of negligence than depraved heart murder.
Fritz has said “nobody can describe” the difference between the two counts, but there is a “hair’s difference” between them, and said the recent ruling dealt with the distribution of heroin, a drug that is considered up to 100 times less lethal than fentanyl.
Matin did not respond to requests to comment on the case by press time on Tuesday.
The lawyers were to meet with Densford after press time Tuesday afternoon for a pretrial conference to make final decisions before jury selection Wednesday morning.
If found guilty of second-degree murder, Duncanson would face a maximum sentence of 40 years of incarceration.