• The Needle is the Murder Weapon: NH program targets drug dealers

    Updated:

    BOSTON -- New Hampshire is becoming a model for the nation when it comes to convicting drug dealers for overdose deaths, and it's a training program that teaches local police how to connect the death to the dealer that's leading the way.

    That method of investigating overdoses as crime scenes is now being taught in states around the country, but not Massachusetts.

    For Debbie Deagle, the pain over her son Stephen’s death still cuts to the bone.

    "It's been almost three years and it just doesn't get easier," she said. "Every day I open my eyes and I think 'oh my God, my son isn't here' and every night that I go to sleep, I think 'I can't believe that I got through another day.'"

    Stephen grew up in Revere. An honors graduate from a private school, he became hooked on opioids at just 18 years old after a dental surgery.

    "He said to me, I'm addicted to drugs mom, and I remember falling on the ground outside, those were words I never thought I'd heard from my kid," Deagle said.

    The addiction led him to heroin and many failed attempts at rehab.

    "There’s no words to describe what that feels like, when you know your child has a very slim chance of making it, or dying," she said.

    On Jan. 2, 2015, Deagle says Stephen bought drugs with a friend from a dealer in Roxbury. What he thought was heroin, was instead a packet of fentanyl.

    Deagle says the man who sold her son the drugs should be behind bars.

    "The police know who he is, why haven't they gotten him? The person who sold him that package murdered my son," she said.

    Across state lines in New Hampshire prosecutors and police agree.

    "The needle is effectively the murder weapon," said Jon DeLena, assistant special agent in-charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration in New England.

    The DEA started program that trained detectives around the Granite State to treat an overdose death as a potential crime scene, looking for clues that lead prosecutors to a conviction for death resulting from an overdose.

    "Why they died and how they died is just as any important as any other manner of death," said Benjamin Agati, New Hampshire assistant attorney general.

    Agati was in Washington D.C. earlier this month for a training seminar from the National Association of Attorneys General.

    "One of the key concepts is how many different states collaborated to make this happen," he said.

    They're teaching local law enforcement and prosecutors the New Hampshire method. So far, five states have held these seminars and five more states are signed up through April. 

    Massachusetts, however, isn't one of them.

    Earlier this year, Gov. Charlie Baker proposed legislation that would create new manslaughter charges for individuals who sold drugs resulting in an overdose death.  A conviction would carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. That bill is currently tied up in committee.

    "I don't understand. Thirty states already have adopted the fentanyl homicide charge," Deagle said.

    The Essex County District Attorney's office is not waiting on the state.

    They convicted Carlos Hunter in September for involuntary manslaughter for selling a fatal dose of fentanyl to Joshua Miller in Lynn. Hunter was sentenced 8 to 10 years in prison. Miller’s mother Diane McEvoy spoke to reporters after the September sentencing.

    "Maybe it will save another family, another mom," she said.

    It's that justice Debbie Deagle wants for Steven. Knowing her son's dealer walks free only makes it harder to grapple with her grief.

    "It makes me feel like we are sending a message out to drug dealers to come to Massachusetts, we are lenient, you can get away with killing our children," she said.

    Boston 25 News asked Attorney General Maura Healey if she plans on holding that specific training here in Massachusetts.

    "I think that as much as we can, the more training, the more education that we can provide to law enforcement and law enforcement agencies about this crisis, all the better," she said.

    In regard to Baker's proposed bill, Healey said she needs to have conversations with local district attorneys to learn more about this type of enforcement.

    The Essex County District Attorney's office says if the evidence is there, they will continue to charge drug dealers with involuntary manslaughter. 

    The Suffolk County DA’s office says they won't rule out going after a drug dealer for selling a fatal drug, but have yet to pursue any charges.

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