SJC weighs appropriate penalty for supplying heroin

Heroin killed Eric Sinacori, a 20-year-old University of Massachusetts Amherst student, who was found dead by his parents when they visited from New Jersey in October 2013. A medical examiner concluded the cause of death was “acute heroin intoxication.”

Jesse Carrillo, a graduate student at the school who had fallen into his own heroin addiction, had given Sinacori the drugs that killed him.

Now it is up to the Supreme Judicial Court to decide whether to uphold Carrillo’s May 2017 conviction of involuntary manslaughter based on wanton or reckless conduct, and drug distribution.

Gov. Charlie Baker has supported changing the statutes to clarify that dealing a dangerous drug to someone who is then killed by that drug is manslaughter. But this case is different.

Carrillo’s attorney, J.W. Carney, argued that Carrillo and Sinacori, who were both addicted to heroin, entered into a joint venture to procure heroin from Carrillo’s regular dealer in the Bronx. Carrillo made the trip and gave Sinacori the drugs the night before he was found dead of an overdose in his apartment.

“Jesse Carrillo was not a drug dealer,” Carney said in oral arguments Monday that were covered by WBUR. “He didn’t profit from getting Eric the heroin, he didn’t benefit in any way. He just pooled the money, went to the dealer, purchased it, and gave Eric exactly what he had paid for.”

The case stems from one death among the thousands of people killed by overdoses in recent years, a grim toll caused by runaway addiction to heroin and opioids like fentanyl. Officials have generally tried to steer blame towards the bigger suppliers – crime syndicates that flood neighborhoods with cheap, profitable poison, and pharmaceutical companies whose legal medical painkillers can contribute to the downward spiral of addiction.

Carrillo is not the first Massachusetts defendant to be convicted of manslaughter for contributing to someone’s overdose, but Carney argues his client is distinguished from those other defendants because of the lack of aggravating factors. There is no evidence, he argued, that Carrillo injected the heroin into Sinacori, supplied him with other drugs, or knew of any prior overdoses. All he did was provide Sinacori the heroin.

Some of the justices appeared skeptical of the prosecution’s argument or concerned about the implications of upholding the conviction.

“He’s bought this heroin multiple times, used it himself, he’s not died on any of these occasions,” said Justice Scott Kafker. “Isn’t that about as safe a drug delivery as we’re going to hear about when you’re dealing with heroin?”

Arguing to uphold the conviction, Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Von Flatern contended that Carrillo had supplied heroin to someone showing severe addiction.

Chief Justice Ralph Gants questioned the implications of the prosecution’s argument on the state’s program for involuntarily committing individuals whose drug abuse is likely to result in serious harm.

“I’m just wondering about whether the DAs and the attorney general [are] prepared to accept the logical consequence of your position,” Gants said, “which, as far as I can tell, is that every person with a substance use disorder may be civilly committed.”

In an amicus brief, Attorney General Maura Healey argued against Carney, saying that requiring aggravating factors beyond the fact that the defendant gave the victim heroin would “be inconsistent with well-established, sensible principles of Massachusetts manslaughter law.”

Dating back several years, the Boston Globe has covered the twisted and heart-wrenching story of Sinacori’s life and death, including his role as a confidential informant for campus police.

The legal briefs filed with the court bear the hallmarks of a tragic story about drug addiction – deception, an all-consuming drive to obtain drugs, and an aborted attempt to get clean of them.

Carrillo had been introduced to heroin only about nine months before Sinacori’s death, but it quickly took ahold, as Carrillo used 3,000 to 4,000 bags of heroin in that time-period. He described his addiction as a “terror,” according to his lawyer’s brief.

Over the next four or five months, the state’s highest court will determine whether supplying Sinacori with heroin is enough to warrant Carrillo’s manslaughter conviction.

ANDY METZGER


BEACON HILL

ML Strategies lobbying fees hit a record level of more than $5 million in 2018. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston City Councilor Kim Janey is proposing a city ordinance that would take away unilateral control over marijuana store licensing from the mayor’s office and impose a preference in licensing for those who were previously affected by the war on drugs. (Boston Globe)

Hoping to return to the bargaining table and avoid a budgetary deficit, Methuen Mayor James Jajuga announced Monday that he will revoke raises for police superior officers, who would earn $432,295 under their contract with the city. (Eagle-Tribune)

Bridgewater’s town council is considering changes to the way the municipality is governed, including whether councilors should be paid. If the measure passes, it will be a ballot question during the April 27 town election. (Brockton Enterprise)

Plans to renovate the Grimshawe House, which had a real-world connection to author Nathaniel Hawthorne and was used as a setting in his fiction, have sparked disagreement between some preservations pleased to see the disheveled building restored, and others concerned about the idea that it will become residences. (The Salem News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

As President Trump prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, the path appears to have narrowed for his campaign promise to build a border wall, with Republicans warning against a fallback plan to declare a state of emergency if Congress doesn’t approve funding for the project. (New York Times)

Rep. Richard Neal’s office says he is moving ahead with plans to subpoena President Trump’s tax returns, a power vested in his new post of House Ways and Means Committee chairman that the Springfield congressman is being pressured to exercise. (Associated Press) Joan Vennochi takes aim at billionaire Tom Steyer who’s using his money to take aim at Neal through television ads pressuring him to move forward against Trump. (She also has something to say about the other billionaires looking to leverage their loot in the 2020 presidential race.) (Boston Globe)

Ben Clements and Ron Fein say there are already solid grounds for beginning impeachment hearings in the House. (Boston Globe)

Federal prosecutors in New York issued a sweeping request for records from Trump’s inaugural committee, an indication of “a deepening criminal investigation” into its activities, reports the Washington Post.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is poised for a promotion if Gov. Ralph Northam resigns over racist photos that were included on his medical school yearbook page, but Fairfax is now fending off his own charges of past behavior. A woman told the Washington Post about an alleged assault that occurred when the two were in Boston for the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and the Post published its account after Fairfax cited the paper’s reporting in response to allegations published by the website Big League Politics.

Rep. Joe Kennedy brings his call for “moral capitalism” to Harvard Law School. (Boston Globe) Check out Carter Wilkie’s recent CommonWealth essay that finds an echo in Kennedy’s call of John Winthrop’s famous “City on a Hill” speech.

ELECTIONS

Former governor William Weld, who has been hinting at a presidential run, switched back from the Libertarian to the Republican Party in January. (CommonWealth)

The state office regulating campaign spending is recommending an end to a long-standing exception to contribution limits that allowed labor unions to donate up to $15,000 a year to an individual candidate. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth recently looked at how much campaign money was generated through the union loophole.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

WeWork is continuing its rapid growth in Boston. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Students stage a sit-in at Holy Cross to protest the school’s handling of sexual assault allegations. (Telegram & Gazette)

Former Quincy school committee member and state Republican party official Christine Cedrone has been disbarred for misappropriation of funds for a client. This is in addition to an ongoing lawsuit and criminal case related to her work as an attorney. (Patriot Ledger)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A new partnership between Cape Cod Hospital and Dana-Farber means locals can stay close to home and have access to cancer treatments and world class research. More than 30 percent of the Cape population is receiving health care away from the Cape.  (Cape Cod Times)

The imminent departure of CEO David Torchiana will put Partners HealthCare at a new important crossroads, say health care experts. (Boston Globe)

Baystate Health of Springfield announces plans to build a new behavioral health facility. (MassLive)

TRANSPORTATION

In the MBTA’s vision for 2040, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack moved a subway link between the Red and Blue lines from the big ideas category (something for after 2040, if ever) to the next priorities category (before 2040). Transit advocates and one member of the Fiscal and Management Control Board pushed for quick action, but Pollack cautioned that no money has been set aside for the project. (CommonWealth)

T notes: First came GLX, and now there’s GLT, for Green Line Transformation…What you need to know for getting to and from the Patriots parade ….Productivity push at the MBTA. (CommonWealth)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial says rural communities need more transportation help from the state.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The town of Wellfleet has decided to push forward its dredging plans for Wellfleet Harbor after the US Army Corps of Engineers declined to provide funds for the work. Natural shoaling has reduced water depths and created navigational hazards during low tide. (Cape Cod Times)

CASINOS

Fans in three states legally bet $185 million on the Super Bowl. (Associated Press)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Massachusetts State Police start a pilot body camera program. (MassLive) Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri is pushing for officers to wear body cameras. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Gannett Co. rejected a cash offer for the newspaper company from Digital First Media, the same  cut-to-the-bone company that owns the Boston Herald and the Lowell Sun in Massachusetts. (USA Today).

WBZ radio anchor Gary Lapierre dies at 76. (MassLive)

The Boston Globe says it will restore four comics and the Jumble puzzle after reader outrage over the cuts.

The McClatchy newspaper chain, which owns the Miami Herald, is offering voluntary buyouts to 10 percent of the chain’s staff. (Miami New Times)