Today 58-year-old Bernard Gonzalez became the first person in Broward County to be charged with murder for selling fentanyl to a person who later overdosed.
The Broward State Attorney's Office announced this afternoon that a grand jury decided to charge Gonzalez, a Miramar resident, with first-degree murder after prosecutors say he sold fentanyl to Kelly Fitzgerald. The 31-year-old Miami resident apparently took the drugs home, ingested them in her house, and then fatally overdosed March 21. If convicted, Gonzalez could face life in prison.
"This is the first use of the recently enacted Florida Statute 782.04(1)(a)3.g in Broward County," State Attorney Mike Satz's office said in a media announcement. "The law requires prosecutors to prove that the defendant supplied the drugs to the victim and that the drugs were the proximate cause of her death."
These sorts of prosecutions — in which alleged drug dealers are hit with murder charges when their customers die — are deeply controversial, date back to Ronald Reagan's war on drugs, and are seen as generally counterproductive by public-health officials and harm-reduction experts. Nationally, prosecutors began hitting drug dealers with murder charges decades ago, but in that time, there appears to be no evidence that these kinds of cases lead to any reduction in drug use or overdose deaths.
That fact has not stopped prosecutors from using these same laws to "combat" the nation's heroin and fentanyl epidemic. State lawmakers this year added fentanyl and multiple fentanyl analogs — including carfentanil, alfentanil, and other substances often mixed with heroin — to the list of drugs that, if sold, could lead to murder charges for drug dealers.
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In many cases, people prosecuted as "drug dealers" are users themselves. In a February case in Miami-Dade County, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office alleged that two men, ages 21 and 52, were "drug dealers" who had killed a man by selling him fentanyl. In reality, one of the two men charged, 21-year-old Karl Schmidt, was a friend of the deceased and a fellow user — and the man killed, David Calle, had asked Schmidt to pick up some drugs for him.
Not much is known yet about the relationship between Gonzalez and Fitzgerald. (A spokesperson for Satz's office said the text of the full indictment was not available this afternoon.) Gonzalez had already been sitting in the Broward County jail on charges of armed trafficking of oxycodone and possession of a weapon by a felon. But separate arrest documents from earlier this year allege Gonzalez was a heroin user himself. May 1, the Miramar Police Department's SWAT unit executed a search warrant on Gonzalez's apartment on SW 22nd Street in that city. The cops said they found scores of guns, as well as a slew of drugs that allegedly included marijuana, fentanyl, Xanax, Percocet, and Adderall.
In a follow-up interview with police, Gonzalez denied dealing drugs and instead stated he had been using them himself.
"During the statement, the defendant claimed ownership and admitted knowledge to the presence of heroin and cocaine inside his bedroom," a May 1 arrest affidavit reads. "He advised that when he uses drugs, he does not inject them and only sniffs it."