A 25-year-old Marine corporal found dead on the floor of his barracks at Camp Pendleton last year -- headphones still on from playing on the computer -- died of a fentanyl overdose, and federal prosecutors are now seeking to hold responsible the man they say sold him the drugs.
Kyle Anthony Shephard, 25, of San Marcos, is charged with distribution of fentanyl resulting in death, according to a complaint that was unsealed in San Diego federal court Friday.
It is the third such federal prosecution here in recent months targeting dealers in overdoses, part of a new push to help stem the tide of deaths from the nation's opioid crisis.
Phone records show Shephard and the Marine, who is not named in court records, were first introduced in November 2016 and spent the next three months arranging several drug sales, the complaint says.
The dangers surrounding fentanyl -- an extremely potent synthetic heroin -- were discussed in their conversations, with Shephard acknowledging the drug could result in overdose, authorities said.
About a day before the Marine's death, Shephard sold him four fentanyl pills for $100, text messages show, according to the complaint. In many cases, fentanyl is secretly laced into other illicit drugs, notably counterfeit oxycodone pills. Users have no idea what they are taking.
The messages show in this instance that the victim knew he was buying fentanyl, the court records say.
"Do u have the fentanyl ones or the other ones," the Marine texted.
"I have both...," Shephard allegedly responded.
The Marine's last computer activity happened at 1:44 a.m. on Jan. 28, 2017, and he was found dead the following day as if he'd fallen out of his computer chair, according to prosecutors.
Investigators found a blue pill on the headboard next to a powdery substance and a rolled up dollar bill. The pill tested positive for fentanyl, according to military lab results.
Shephard had been arrested the month before along with a woman and charged by the District Attorney's Office with drug distribution -- about 2,000 pills laced with fentanyl, according to authorities. The status of that case was not available late Friday.
"What a senseless tragedy that another young life has been lost because of fentanyl," said Interim U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman in a statement. "This Marine was serving his country and had his whole life ahead of him. We are going to hold dealers accountable for the deaths that result from their reckless disregard for human life."
If convicted, Shephard faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The case is similar to another being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office. Maxwell Gaffney is accused of selling heroin to a friend in Ramona in February 2017, resulting in his death. The victim, Kyle Rodriguez, had struggled with drugs but had been clean for a year when he overdosed. Gaffney was arrested in January.
And days ago, another alleged dealer, Joel Rodriguez, admitted in a guilty plea to being the source of fentanyl that caused five people to overdose in Alpine. They survived.
The District Attorney's Office has also brought an overdose case on a murder charge. Alfredo Lemus is accused of selling Richard Summerfruit what was disguised as a Percocet but ended up being fentanyl. Prosecutors say Lemus knew what he was selling.
The Medical Examiner's Office has not yet released fentanyl overdose data for 2017, but preliminary numbers show the deaths have doubled over the year before, according to prosecutors. At least 33 people died of fentanyl overdoses in 2016.
This article was written by Kristina Davis from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.