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4 charged in Baldwin Co. under new fentanyl manslaughter law

The Baldwin County District Attorney on Monday charged four people with manslaughter after a weekend fentanyl overdose death of a young woman in Orange Beach.

They’re among the first to face prosecution under a 2023 law that carves out a specific manslaughter charge for those who sell or distribute fentanyl. 

The bill, sponsored and passed by House Speaker Pro Tem Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, was tweaked this year to specify that it only applied to fentanyl-related overdose deaths. 

The new version of the law says someone commits manslaughter if he or she “knowingly sells, furnishes, gives away, delivers, or distributes a controlled substance” which contains fentanyl and the person to whom it was sold, furnished, given, delivered or distributed dies as a proximate result of the use of the controlled substance.

Pringle said he hates the overdose situation that spurred the law change, but he’s glad to see it being used. 

“That’s the whole purpose of the bill,” Pringle said Monday.  “To put these people in jail who are killing our friends and our family.”

Last year, the Alabama Department of Public Health said the state experienced an alarming increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths, from 121 in 2018, to 193 in 2019, and to 428 in 2020. By 2021, the state saw more than 1,000 fentanyl-related overdose deaths, ADN previously reported.

Also in 2023, lawmakers approved Rep. Matt Simpson’s House Bill 1 to establish mandatory minimum sentences for both fentanyl trafficking and possession.

“This is an unfortunate situation that has become all too common in our state and country as a whole,” Simpson, R-Daphne, told ADN on Monday. “The Legislature has made this issue a top priority and will continue to do all we can to give law enforcement the tools to help get this dangerous drug and the people peddling it off of our streets.” 

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Doggett said law enforcement was notified of the overdose death in Orange Beach Saturday afternoon. 

“Once they were processing the scene, through electronic communications they were able to uncover that she had been in communication with someone believed to be a drug dealer,” Doggett told Alabama Daily News on Monday. “We were able to, from that lead, identify who was involved and they were able to make contact with them within a couple of hours …”

The four individuals charged were all present when the distribution of the fentanyl happened earlier Saturday, Doggett said.

The DA’s office is not yet releasing the deceased woman’s name or other details out of consideration for the family, Doggett told ADN.

The suspects, WKRG reported, are 27-year-old Gerald Lee Anderson III from Spanish Fort, 22-year-old Madison Lee Hayek from Silverhill, 25-year-old Malia Autumn Decautur from Spanish Fort, and 32-year-old Roshell Michael Benson from Brewton.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it is used to treat severe and chronic pain. Illicit fentanyl, made in drug labs and often trafficked into the U.S., can be deadly even in small doses.

Doggett said the recent change to the manslaughter law to include fentanyl distribution “carves out a specific set of facts so you know these acts are covered under that statute.” Usually, statutes are not this specific, Doggett said. But fentanyl is so deadly, a law change was needed.

“For whatever reason, it’s become a popular drug among addicts,” he said. “But fentanyl is no different than a loaded gun, it can kill anybody at any time. That’s the danger of it.” 

While this is the first announced charges under the new law in Baldwin County, Doggett said other cases under investigation may result in the same charge. 

He said investigators at the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Department are “tracking down every lead” on fentanyl cases.

“They’re trying to prevent deaths,” he said.

Manslaughter is a Class B felony punishable with between two and 20 years in prison.

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