December 2, 2013

Defense disputes medical evidence at drug overdose sentencing in Farmington

The sentencing of four defendants convicted of drug charges is set for today in Franklin County Court.

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON — The sentencing of four people convicted of bringing drugs to a party where a woman died was postponed Monday while Justice Michaela Murphy decided if the drugs were what caused the woman’s death.

Seth Gordon

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Roy Gordon

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The defendants already pleaded guilty to bringing the drugs to the party last November, which was held at Roy Gordon’s parents’ house for Gordon’s birthday. The state and the defense attorneys, however, are still debating whether the state can prove there’s reasonable evidence that the drugs were what caused the death of Gordon’s girlfriend, 52-year-old Marilyn Rider.

Roy Gordon, 43, Seth Gordon, 23, Terry Oliver, 54, and Eric Barnes, 28, all pleaded guilty previously to furnishing the morphine in exchange for a two-year sentencing cap for the crime. Furnishing scheduled drugs is a Class C crime and otherwise punishable by up to five years in prison.

Murphy said while the defendants have been cleared of higher charges specifically convicting them of causing Rider’s death, she can still consider whether they played a role in the death when she announces her ruling this morning.

If it was a factor, Murphy said she could then consider victim impact while deliberating on a sentence length.

“If I do factor in victim impact, that can change the dynamics of the sentencing,” she said.

The state’s medical report concluded in January that Rider had a host of chronic lung diseases and died when her lungs essentially shut down, with morphine listed as a contributing factor to this.

Rider’s morphine content was 96 nanograms per milliliter of blood, which medical experts said is within a range that could be given as a prescription for someone with a built-up tolerance, but also could be enough for a fatal reaction.

One of morphine’s main effects is that it slows down lung function, and Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Mark Flomenbaum said since Rider already had compromised breathing, the morphine injection was likely a fatal contributing factor.

The defense argued that since Rider was a longtime drug abuser, she could have built up enough immunity to withstand that level of morphine and had died from other causes.

The defense also called a medical expert of their own, Dr. John Daniels, who works in pathology and law and said without an autopsy the court can’t rule out many of the other factors that could have killed Rider.

Flomenbaum said they do not do autopsies often on cases like Rider’s, where the person was older than 50 and had other factors such as chronic lung disease that would likely cause death.

Attorney Walter Hanstein, representing Roy Gordon, said “likely” is a good enough standard in some scenarios, but in a criminal case there should be a higher standard of evidence.

“That’s different when we talk about pinning a death on people,” he said.

Flomenbaum said with the exception of cases involving trauma from weapons, there is rarely a case where the medical examiner can find a definitive cause of death with no room for doubt.

A statement from Rider’s daughter, Tyler Pierce, was read to the court and stated the four defendants ignored her 10-year-old brother, who was at the party, when he begged for someone to get his mother medical help.

“Instead the people who killed my mother tried to clean up all tracks,” she wrote, saying they forbade her brother to get help while they finished hiding evidence of drug use.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Andrews said anything less than a sentencing of two years in prison would take away from the serious consequences of the crimes.

Andrews said in his concluding remarks that the most telling evidence in the case is that the defendants knew Rider was sick and still gave her the morphine injections. By giving Rider the drugs, he said they knowingly risked her having a fatal reaction.

“What could be more aggravating ... than injecting it in someone’s arms that you know is desperately ill,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

kschroeder@centralmaine.com
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Terry Oliver

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Eric Barnes

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