Fatal drug overdose results in plea agreement

Keri Ann Stoppe, of Boswell, pleaded guilty Thursday in the Somerset County Court of Common Pleas to selling drugs to a friend who overdosed and died.

Brett Robert Thomas, 33, died from an overdose June 28, 2020, according to state police. Stoppe, 32, was scheduled to go to trial on the charges related to the incident this week.

Court documents state that Stoppe sold Thomas several stamp bags of drugs June 27, 2020. Stoppe told police she’d given stamp bags to Thomas throughout their friendship, but denied any knowledge or involvement in his drug activity prior to his death.

Thomas died of cardiorespiratory arrest and acute fentanyl toxicity the following day, according to his death certificate after an autopsy was performed.

Stop was initially charged with drug delivery resulting in death, a first-degree felony. This is no longer on the table after a plea agreement where the charge was withdrawn, along with a felony count of drug delivery.

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She pleaded to possess a controlled substance and recklessly endangering another person, both misdemeanors, and a third-degree felony of criminal use of communication facility. Felony charges go from the highest at first-degree felony down to third-degree felony.

The charge of drug delivery resulting in death is a state legislative effort to curb drug overdoses and overdose deaths amid the opioid crisis across the country.

In order for the charge to stick, the prosecution needs to prove the defendant sold the specific drug that caused a fatal overdose. It can be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt when the charge comes down to circumstantial evidence.

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The sentence for drug delivery resulting in death has a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.

The investigation began when the state police were dispatched to a home in Jenner Township for a death on June 28, 2020. Thomas was identified as deceased. His cellphone, drug paraphernalia and stamp bags were found at the scene.

Multiple empty stamp bags were marked “Demolition man” and a prescription bottle for Trazodone, a drug for treating depression, was marked “Keri Stoppe,” according to state police in a court document.

Thomas’ mother told police that Stoppe was a friend of Thomas. She gave the troopers her son’s cellphone and gave permission for law enforcement to search his phone for evidence, police said.

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The cellphone was delivered to the state police southwestern crime lab July 8, 2020, and District Attorney Jeff Thomas — who is of no relation to the deceased — received a disc containing data from the cellphone Dec. 31 of that year.

Stoppe was charged Jan. 27, 2021. She was in Somerset County Jail in lieu of a $30,000 bond set at her arraignment a day later before District Judge Susan Mankamyer of Boswell, who presided over her preliminary hearing. Her bail was reduced on Feb. 22, 2021 to $10,000 of which she posted on March 15, 2021 and has been free on bond awaiting trial.

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