Jury acquits boyfriend of Stewartstown woman's fatal OD
Jurors took less than an hour to acquit a Maryland man who had been accused of providing a fatal dose of opioids to his Stewartstown girlfriend.
Robert Lee Martin III had been charged with felony drug delivery resulting in death and the misdemeanor of involuntary manslaughter. A jury found him not guilty of those offenses on Friday, Sept. 7, after less than 45 minutes of deliberations, according to defense attorney Davis Younts.
Martin had been accused of giving 25-year-old mother of two Bryanna Shanahan $40 so she could buy opioids and setting up a drug deal for her. It was those drugs that killed her overnight Dec. 15, 2015, in her Stewartstown home, police had alleged.
Martin, 28, of Perry Hall, spent 58 days in York County Prison after being charged before making bail, Younts said.
Had he been convicted of drug delivery resulting in death, he could have faced up to 20 to 40 years in state prison.
Although Martin's exoneration was "a weight lifted off his shoulders," it wasn't a reason to celebrate, according to his attorney.
"He still has an incredible sense of loss and sadness — he loved this girl," Younts told The York Dispatch. "He had given her a ring, and they were talking about getting married when they were both clean."
Both struggled: Text messages between Shanahan and Martin gave jurors a sense of their relationship, the attorney said.
"Any human would be sympathetic to my client," Younts said.
But he said sympathy wasn't the reason for Martin's acquittal.
"He himself was struggling with addiction, trying to get into rehab," Younts said. "They were both having discussions about getting into rehab. This is the ugly reality of addiction."
The defense attorney said the prosecution was unable to prove that the opioids Martin bought for Shanahan were the drugs that killed her.
"In the days leading up to her death, we have evidence she was using drugs with three other people," Younts said, adding there was "a significant time lapse between when (Martin and Shanahan) purchased the drugs in Maryland and when she used them."
Text messages and trial testimony indicated Shanahan had gotten drugs from those three other people, according to Younts, who said none of them was interviewed by police.
Also, Younts said, a forensic pathologist retained by the defense told jurors that Shanahan's essential cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia from a fatal combination of fentanyl and generic Zoloft.
"Why that mattered is because my client and this young lady got the drugs in Maryland and used some of them right away," he said. Had the drugs Martin purchased been the drugs that later caused her death, "then she should have died in Maryland ... within minutes."
Prosecution's response: But senior deputy prosecutor Jared Mellott said the only evidence the jury had that Shanahan used some of the drugs in Maryland was Martin's statement to police.
Mellott said he believes there was enough evidence for the jury to have convicted Martin, and he said that evidence showed she was getting Percocet pills and methamphetamine from other sources, but not heroin.
"This was a different sort of fatal drug overdose than a lot of other ones we've had go to trial, because the defendant was not the actual dealer," Mellott said.
The prosecutor argued that Martin paid for street heroin and gave Shanahan the contact to buy it, and therefore was responsible for her death.
"But at the same time, because he wasn't directly involved ... I believe he did appear to be more of a sympathetic subject to the jury," Mellott said. "He did have a strong personal connection to the victim ... and he certainly was personally affected by her death."
Mellott said he offered a plea agreement in which Martin would plead to involuntary manslaughter, but it fell apart because Martin was unable to say for sure it was the drugs he bought that killed Shanahan.
Drug reaction? The defense pathologist testified there can be a reaction between Zoloft and fentanyl that can cause the heart to stop beating, and he said it would have happened very quickly, according to Younts.
The pathologist also told jurors that in Shanahan's case he didn't see typical signs that normally accompany fatal opioid overdoses, such as respiration becoming shallow and stopping.
Younts said he doesn't "see what good it does" to criminally charge the loved ones of opioid addicts.
"I don't think a case like this is what the Legislature intended when they changed the law in 2011," he said. That's the year state lawmakers modified the drug delivery resulting in death law so prosecutors no longer needed to prove malice on the part of the drug supplier.
Martin has been clean since shortly after Shanahan's death, his attorney said.
"After all this happened, he did get into a long-term rehab facility in Florida," Younts said. "He did very well down there and since then has been clean."
Martin has a steady job and, in the future, hopes to help teens at risk of opioid addiction.
"He was a baseball player in high school, and he hurt his shoulder. They prescribed him a bunch of pain medication," and he became addicted, Younts said.
The background: According to court documents, Shanahan's mother found her in her room after Shanahan's young son informed her that "mommy is dead."
Overcome with grief, Denise Shanahan told officers her daughter had planned to go to rehab for her addiction issues the next day and said she had to use drugs that night because she couldn't get into rehab unless she tested positive for drugs, documents state.
A review of Bryanna Shanahan's cellphone records showed numerous text messages between her and Martin. She sent her last message not long before her death, police have said.
Documents reveal that, hours earlier, she texted Martin that she needed drugs to be in her system for rehab, "N I don't want garbage. ... I need to know u have 40 bucks ... period ... N that ur gonna buy me one. Or I'm gonna be f—n furious."
Difficult decisions: York County District Attorney Dave Sunday has said decisions about whether to charge friends, romantic partners and family members of fatal overdose victims aren't easy.
"Every one of these cases presents its own unique set of facts and circumstances," he said at the time Martin was charged. "Police officers and prosecutors continue to do the best with all the facts they have at hand in making charging decisions in cases like this."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.