MANCHESTER - Police and prosecutors are looking at overdose deaths as potential homicides and they’re charging the dealers that sold the fatal dose.
The statute is called “death resulting from the sale of a controlled drug.” It's a law in New Hampshire that's been on the books for decades, but rarely enforced until now.
One of the first prosecutions
"Enough is enough" said the judge in Belknap Superior Court. With those words, Brian Watson’s fate was sealed. Twenty years in prison for the former Northfield little league coach turned drug dealer, who police say peddled a deadly fentanyl mix called "fire" to 21-year-old Seth Tilton-Fogg.
"Seth was a vibrant young man, he had a wonderful sense of humor," said Tilton’s mother Judy inside the courthouse.
Judy Tilton and Peter Fogg didn't know their son had become addicted to heroin.
An avid hunter and snowboarder, police say he met Watson through a high school classmate and purchased drugs from him several times.
"You just go into total shock, and everything shuts down," said Tilton. She found Seth’s body the morning of April 3, 2015.
How police tracked down the dealer
"He was sitting on the end of his bed with his cell phone still in hand," she said.
Seth’s cell phone was taken from the crime scene by Tilton police detectives. He died while texting Watson about the fentanyl hit that took his life.
"When you look at the text messages, you can clearly see they knew what they were doing," said Tilton Police Chief Robert Cormier.
He says his officers were recently trained to process overdose deaths as crime scenes and detective Nate Buffington says Seth’s cell phone was the smoking gun.
"It basically outlined the entire sale, the times, the locations, the prices," said Buffington.
In a transcript obtained by FOX25 of text messages between Watson and his girlfriend, Watson acknowledges Seth’s death, but seems more concerned about getting get caught, texting back "Say nothing to no one."
A reason for increased enforcement
Cormier says that Watson continued to sell fentanyl after learning the deadly consequences.
"For them to intentionally sell to someone who's weak, knowing when they leave that sale, that person could be dead minutes later, for me that is homicide," he said.
Prosecutors are charging drug dealers under the statute of "sale of a controlled drug, death resulting" which carries a sentence of up to life in prison.
"The needle is effectively the murder weapon," Jon DeLena, assistant special agent in charge at the DEA office in New Hampshire.
DeLena says a joint task force was put together to educate law enforcement around the granite state about the "death resulting" law.
About 400 police officers in the granite state have undergone the new training protocol designed by the DEA to seize evidence overdose victims that can be traced back to the dealer. The goal is to look for clues at an overdose death that would help prosecutors convict.
DeLena says the charge sends a message to drug dealers that their business is in jeopardy. He says his investigators have evidence the dealers are taking notice.
"We know that they are talking about what's going on here. And that it in itself is a victory for us," said DeLena.
No winners, even after a conviction
But Seth’s family says there are no winners here. Judy Tilton read a letter to the judge during Watson’s sentencing.
"I still go into his room every day and sob," she said from the stand.
Their youngest son is dead, and Watson’s conviction can't bring him back. Their only comfort is the heavy weight of justice.
"Knowing that he cannot go out and do that to other children, that he is off the street and more families are safer because of it," said Judy.
Brian Watson was one of the first in New Hampshire to be tried and found guilty under the new statute.
The Attorney General's office tells us that so far and have charged a dozen people with "death resulting", five of those have led to convictions. Currently there's at least 70 cases around the state in various stages of investigation that may lead to charges.
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