While more than 20 individuals are facing federal charges based on their reported connections to overdoses since January, this man was arrested and charged in January 2015. Sentences for drug crimes are usually determined by the quantity of the drug, but prosecutors and judge spoke at length in this case about how much the death of a victim should play a role in sentencing.
This story originally appeared in the New Haven Register
By Anna Bisaro
NEW HAVEN >> A West Haven man was sentenced Tuesday to one year and one day in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release after being involved in a drug transaction that resulted in a fatal overdose.
Christopher Fogler was 29 when he was arrested on Jan. 16, 2015, on a federal complaint charging him with possession with intent to distribute heroin and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin. Court records indicate Fogler waived his right to an indictment and pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin.
Fogler already has served about eight months in federal custody since his arrest, and will get credit for time served, the court ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Janet Hall presided over the sentencing Tuesday, and said while the quantity of drugs Fogler reportedly sold was not high enough to warrant a lengthy sentence, she felt she had to take into consideration that there was a victim in the case.
“I can’t usually say to a defendant, ‘Your conduct killed somebody,’” Hall said. “And that weighs heavily on my mind today.”
The investigation in this case began after a 33-year-old man died from an accidental overdose in his Milford home in January 2015, according to court documents.
Investigators interviewed the victim’s family and learned the victim had abused drugs and alcohol in the past, but was not a known user of heroin. An autopsy proved the victim died from an accidental heroin overdose, according to court documents.
Using cellphone records, investigators were able to trace communications between the victim and Alyssa Jelliffe of West Haven, who was 21 when she was arrested with Fogler, who was her boyfriend. Both admitted upon their arrest that they had been selling heroin from their West Haven home to support their own addictions.
The couple allegedly sold a bundle of heroin to the victim for $170 on Jan. 11, 2015. The couple told law enforcement they had used heroin from the same batch and it did not cause any adverse effects.
Jelliffe pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and is scheduled to be sentenced in October.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alina Reynolds, the prosecutor in Fogler’s case, said the government does not view one defendant as more culpable than the other in contributing to the death of the overdose victim, though the victim’s communication over the drug sale had been with Jelliffe.
Reynolds added that she felt a significant sentence would help deter Fogler from returning to a life of crime and help curb others from being involved in activity that is contributing to the heroin epidemic in the state.
Hundreds have died from heroin overdoses and Fogler “puts a face on those statistics,” Reynolds said.
“All around here, we see what heroin does. It leads to death and it leads to incarceration,” she said.
Fogler’s attorneys argued in a memorandum to the court that Fogler’s addiction to heroin came as a result of being prescribed oxycodone to deal with pain that resulted from cocaine-related pancreatitis. Fogler’s substance abuse actually began when he was 15, according to Kelly Barrett, his attorney.
Though Fogler’s involvement in the heroin sale in this case was limited to driving the car to the West Haven coffee shop where the transaction occurred, Fogler has expressed to the court that he feels completely responsible for the fatal overdose.
“As bad as my drug use was for myself and my physical health, and for my family, nothing compares to what happened to the man I sold heroin to,” Fogler wrote in a letter to the court prior to sentencing. “When the police showed me the picture of this man dead, from the overdose, I couldn’t believe someone had died from a drug that my friends and I use every day. It was surreal. I felt responsible and like I did it, because my friend and I sold him the drugs that took his life. I wish I never sold him the drugs and I am indescribably sorry for his death and the pain it causes his family.”
Since his arrest, Fogler has attempted to become clean, but according to a memorandum written by Barrett, he did relapse and almost died from an overdose last August. After witnessing an accidental overdose death of a friend in a subsequent treatment program, Fogler has made more concerted efforts to stay clean, Barrett wrote in a memorandum to the court.
Fogler addressed the court as well Tuesday, expressing remorse for the family of the deceased victim and pledging to continue to work through rehabilitation programs.
“I’m truly sorry for the family of the deceased,” he said. “There’s truly a difference in how I think and feel. I know I need help now.”
Fogler faced a maximum term in prison of up to 20 years and a maximum financial penalty of $1 million for the crime.
In addition to the prison time imposed, Fogler was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service during his period of supervised release.
Since January, the U.S. attorney’s office has been targeting suppliers linked with heroin overdoses across the state. More than 20 individuals have been arrested on federal narcotics charges who are also reportedly connected with overdoses.
The list of those arrested this year includes Steven Whaley, a janitor for New Haven Public Schools. Whaley was allegedly involved in supplying fentanyl to 17 people who overdosed late last month. Three of the victims died from the overdoses.