Involuntary manslaughter conviction in fatal opioid overdose

  • St Mary's County,Calvert County
  • By

Mark Steven Garner II

Leonardtown, MD- On Friday, March 9, Judge Karen H. Abrams announced her verdict in the opioid overdose death of Barbara Ann Sneden of California.

Mark Steven Garner II, 29 of Prince Frederick, was charged with second-degree depraved heart murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and conspiracy to distribute narcotics.

Abrams found Garner guilty of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and conspiracy to distribute—she acquitted him on the charge of second-degree murder.

Before announcing her verdict, Abrams explained how she reached her decision to acquit on the murder charge. “Mr. Garner is not a high level dealer. He also seemed genuinely surprised and shocked when he learned of Sneden’s death. He admitted to police he didn’t think he sold her enough to kill her.”

Abrams also said, “He [Garner] knew people who have died from heroin overdoses. He knew she was going to use and knew she was in recovery.” Abrams said those facts were enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt Garner was guilty on the other three charges.

During the three day trial, St. Mary’s County State’s Attorney Richard Fritz laid out the hours leading up to Sneden’s death on August 31, 2016. Sneden (pictured below) and Alex Mills, who testified in the trial, made plans to purchase and use heroin. Based on cell phone and text message records, Sneden made arrangements to meet Garner at the Food Lion (now Weis) in Solomons to make the transaction. Security cameras from the store confirm the sale between Garner and Sneden.

After making the purchase, Sneden returned to Mills’ car, where they two of them ingested the heroin via syringe. Mills then returned Sneden to the Dockside halfway house in California, where she was staying while in recovery.

Not long after using the drugs, Sneden’s on again, off again boyfriend, Dennis Taylor, testified he picked her up from Dockside and she did not seem intoxicated. The two of them left for about hour before Sneden returned to Dockside for a house meeting. Taylor waited for her to return and then went out for another several hours before Sneden returned by the 10 p.m. curfew.

Taylor testified under oath that he did not provide Sneden with additional drugs and she seemed sober throughout the evening.

At some point after returning to Dockside, Sneden ingested the remaining heroin she purchased from Garner and died from an overdose. The heroin she purchased was found inside a dollar bill on her nightstand.

The state medical examiner’s office ruled Sneden’s cause of death as “heroin intoxication.” Several other therapeutic drugs were also found in her system, but the toxicology report stated those drugs were registered at therapeutic levels.

Garner’s defense attorney, Michael Beach, argued the amount of heroin Garner sold Sneden was not enough to cause an overdose. Beach also argued there was insignificant evidence the heroin from Garner is the heroin she overdosed on.

During the last day of testimony, the defense called Dr. Lawrence Guzzardi, an expert in medical toxicology and emergency medicine. He suggested to the court the medical examiner didn’t take into account all circumstances leading up to Sneden’s death.

Guzzardi pointed out the fact that Sneden had ingested the same heroin earlier in the day, survived and witnesses were unable to tell she was intoxicated. He also suggested, based on the evidence and witness testimony, there wasn’t enough heroin left over from the purchase to cause an overdose. “Fifty dollars of heroin for a user isn’t a lot, not enough to kill her.”

Guzzardi also suggested several of the therapeutic drugs in Sneden’s system could have contributed to her death because they all affect the brain’s neurotransmitters. “We don’t know if she had a seizure or a possible arrhythmia.”

Abrams said during her ruling, Guzzardi’s testimony was based on speculation and she was using the facts of the case presented by the state medical examiner. Abrams also said there was no doubt Garner sold Sneden the heroin that caused her death.

This is the sixth case in which a drug dealer was charged with second degree depraved heart murder in connection with a fatal overdose in St. Mary’s County. Five of those trials resulted in an acquittal, one suspect entered an Alford plea on lesser charges.

Abrams did comment at the end of the trial that had this case involved fentanyl or Carfentanil, the outcome could have been different.

After the judge’s ruling, Fritz told, “We’ll try again. I’ll be back,” implying he’s not going to stop pursuing second-degree murder charges. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no difference between involuntary manslaughter and depraved heart murder other than the person has to know that there’s a high likelihood that what they’re selling could kill you and despite that knowledge they do it anyway.”

Fritz said he was encouraged to hear Abrams thoughts on stronger opioids. “I think the judge has recognized that fentanyl and Carfentanil are so highly dangerous it puts the entire case on a different plane.”

When asked why he continues to charge the dealers when the overdose victim chose to use the drugs, he said it’s all about understanding addiction. “It’s like giving a child candy and expecting them not to eat it. It’s an overwhelming desire. I have no sympathy for drugs. You sell drugs, you get what you get.”

Fritz also noted, “I’m not deterred in any manner. The courts continue to allow these charges and these trials to go through so clearly I’m on solid legal ground.”

A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled. Garner is also facing a number of charges in Calvert County.

Contact Joy Shrum at

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