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Judge tosses Fentanyl testimony in opioid murder trial

Leonardtown, MD- St. Mary’s County State’s Attorney Richard Fritz has been seeking convictions against suspected drug dealers in connection with overdose deaths within the county.

In August 2017, Fritz announced indictments against eight individuals—each indictment included several charges, including the charge of second-degree depraved heart murder.

Depraved heart murder has existed in Maryland for decades. The law allows prosecutors the opportunity to prove the suspect knowingly did something that was likely to kill another person. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

So far, Fritz is 0 for 4 in his attempts to secure a conviction on the second degree depraved heart murder charge. Four of the eight suspects have had their day in court; Regina Claggett-Brown, Christina McCauley, and Marcell Blackiston were all acquitted on the murder charge. Tyreise Nelson made a plea deal and pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and drug distribution.

The next scheduled trial is for Geoffrey Uhall, 30, of California. Uhall is charged in connection with the death of Colleen Cord. The state medical examiner confirmed Cord died from a combination of heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and tramadol.

Fritz claims Uhall sold her the heroin and fentanyl that caused her death. Investigators collected evidence from Cord’s apartment, including a “paper fold” they believed contained the drugs from Uhall. Fritz planned to present to the court that the paper fold had the residue of both heroin and fentanyl.

During a motion’s hearing Jan. 25, Uhall’s attorney, James Farmer, requested that Fritz be prohibited from presenting fentanyl as one of the drugs Cord allegedly purchased from Uhall. Farmer explained to TheBayNet.com that the state’s chemist, Maryland State Police forensic scientist Catherine Savage, testified the paper fold did not test positive for fentanyl. The chemist hired by the defense, Janine Arvizu, a laboratory quality expert, agreed with Savage.

“Unfortunately, the deceased died from a combination of drugs. The state wants to blame Mr. Uhall for as much as they can but the state’s chemist agreed the drug test only proved to be heroin,” Farmer said. Judge David W. Densford agreed and granted the motion.

The defense was also successful in its second motion. The State planned to call a witness to testify that he was a former drug addict and had knowledge of the drug culture in St. Mary’s County—including who sells drugs in the area. “The judge said he’s not going to allow people to testify based on assumptions,” Farmer explained. “That was the right decision.”

While both sides continue to prepare for the upcoming trial, Uhall’s defense team maintains that he and Cord purchased the drugs together and that Uhall is not a drug dealer.

In addition to second-degree murder, Uhall is charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, drug distribution and possession charges.

Uhall’s trial begins Feb. 12.

Contact Joy Shrum at j.shrum@thebaynet.com

The Uhall family speaks exclusively with TheBayNet.com

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