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Judge hands down maximum sentence to 'predatory' heroin dealer
A York County judge noted there's no shortage of blame to go around when he sentenced a heroin dealer to the maximum possible prison time for selling the deadly opioid to a young woman who fatally overdosed.
But he laid much of the fault for Arissa Clymer's death squarely on dealer McKenzie Reese, who turns 26 years old this week.
Reese is a predator and a "merchant of death" who has shown no remorse for Clymer's death — and no potential for rehabilitation, Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock said Thursday morning during Reese's sentencing hearing.
He sentenced Reese, of York, to 20 to 40 years in state prison on the man's drug delivery resulting in death conviction — the maximum sentence available under Pennsylvania law — and handed down an additional seven to 14 years on Reese's second convicted count, heroin possession with intent to deliver.
He then stacked the two sentences, making Reese's total prison sentence 27 to 54 years.
First in state? Deputy prosecutor Lewis Reagan told The York Dispatch he believes it's the first time a common pleas judge in Pennsylvania has handed down the maximum 20- to 40-year sentence for drug delivery resulting in death.
Reagan also said he believes it's the first time a judge ordered a drug-dealing sentence to run consecutive to the charge of drug delivery resulting in death.
Trebilcock said heroin dealers have learned that most people convicted in this state of drug delivery resulting in death end up doing a couple years in prison at the most and have decided that's simply "the cost of doing business."
The judge said that mindset must end.
"This is predatory behavior, and it will not be permitted to continue," Trebilcock said.
Family devastated: Members of Reese's family sobbed openly in the courtroom, and one man stormed out loudly, causing sheriff's deputies to chase after him. Reese showed no emotion during his sentencing hearing, at one point turning around to check the clock on the wall, as if he had somewhere to be.
Clymer, 21, died Aug. 15, 2015, of a fatal overdose of heroin and fentanyl, the judge said. She was born and raised in Wellsboro, Tioga County, but was living in Red Lion at the time of her death, according to her obituary.
"He preyed upon her physical pain, and he killed her," Trebilcock said of Reese.
Clymer's obituary acknowledged her struggle with addiction but said in the year prior to her death she had prided herself on her sobriety, which she maintained with the help of counseling.
"One poor decision robbed Arissa and her family from a long, beautiful, successful life," the obituary states.
Her mother, Amy Hilner, submitted a victim-impact statement to the court that asked for the maximum sentence for Reese, to set an example for future dealers.
"Arissa made a choice to get high. She did not make a choice to die," Hilner wrote. "She paid the ultimate price, her life."
Victim fell into a trap: The judge said Clymer suffered from scoliosis and had endured surgeries and the placement of metal rods in her back, leaving her in chronic long-term pain, for which she was legally prescribed opioids.
She became addicted to them and at some point started using heroin, he said, which is cheaper and doesn't require a doctor's prescription.
"This is the trap that Arissa Clymer fell into," Trebilcock said, adding it's one that has snared everyone "from homemakers to athletes to veterans ... even grandparents."
"Bodies are stacking up in our morgues," he said. "Twenty years ago, this didn't happen. But that has changed. ... This is a way-too-familiar story."
Trebilcock referenced two taped phone calls between Reese and his then-girlfriend about Clymer, one before she died, the other afterward.
'Dehumanized': Reagan noted in court that Reese "dehumanized and marginalized" Clymer in those conversations, referring to her as a "b—" and a "fiend," as in drug fiend, and assuring his girlfriend he was merely using Clymer for the money she had inherited after her father died.
Two days later, after finding out Clymer had died, he spoke again with his girlfriend, and "his only concern (was) whether it was 'his stuff' that did it," Reagan said. "That's sociopathic."
The judge noted Reese's criminal record goes back to when he was a juvenile and said the man has "a complete disregard" for the criminal justice system.
"He inflicts pain on others. He inflicts abuse on others," Trebilcock said. "He is a career criminal. ... The court finds he has zero rehabilitative potential."
In fact, the judge said, Reese sold the deadly heroin to Clymer the morning he reported to York County Prison to begin serving a DUI sentence.
A 'societal tragedy': Trebilcock noted that it's not bad enough the pharmaceutical industry has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale and over-prescription of addictive opioids — now it's peddling laxatives specifically for opioid-induced side effects such as constipation.
He called the opioid epidemic a societal tragedy and said he's asked every heroin user who has appeared before him about how they became addicted.
"Over 75 percent of them began with some sort of medical treatment with opioids," he said, and called the epidemic "an emergent threat" to York County and all of southcentral Pennsylvania.
Doctors who over-prescribe and patients who over-medicate also bear responsibility, the judge said, although he focused his ire on the pharmaceutical industry and heroin dealers.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.