A Louisville man who admitted selling drugs in Bowling Green that police later tied to a fatal overdose was sentenced Wednesday to 21/2 years in prison.
Damone Bell, 23, who had pleading guilty to distributing a controlled substance and possessing a mixture of heroin and fentanyl with the intent to distribute, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green.
Bell admitted selling what he believed to be heroin to Logan Cesler and Kaitlin McKinney on July 30, 2018, outside a Bowling Green convenience store.
McKinney, 23, died later that day after she and Cesler used the drugs, court records said.
A medical examiner’s report determined McKinney had a lethal amount of fentanyl in her system, but no heroin was noted.
Bell was arrested the next day with a mixture of heroin and fentanyl in his possession after Cesler agreed to cooperate with police in arranging a second drug deal. Bell pleaded guilty to the counts in February, reaching a plea agreement that recommended a 14-year sentence.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Greg Stivers, however, rejected the plea agreement at Wednesday’s hearing, noting the disparity between the 14-year incarceration recommended in the agreement and a pre-sentence report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office that recommended a sentence of six to 12 months.
The report from the federal probation office used federal sentencing guidelines that take into account the nature of a criminal offense and a defendant’s prior criminal history, and Bell had no record before this arrest.
In addition to the prison time, Stivers ordered Bell, upon his release, to visit his old high school or elementary school at least once every three months to make a presentation to students about his actions and experience.
“I hope that can convince someone else not to go down the road that led to the mistake you made,” Stivers told Bell. “I hope you can provide an example by staying out of trouble and teach people following in your footsteps that the mistake you made is not the end of your life.”
Bell’s sentencing had been delayed in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by questions the judge raised about the case.
In June, Stivers issued an order directing Assistant U.S. Attorney Jo Lawless to explain why no heroin was found in McKinney’s system if she had ingested a mixture of heroin and fentanyl.
Lawless acknowledged in a court filing that her office did not know exactly what Bell sold to Cesler and McKinney on the day of the fatal overdose, but on Wednesday she said she was prepared to prove at trial that Bell’s actions caused McKinney’s death.
Stivers, who had accepted Bell’s guilty plea while rejecting the plea agreement, decided to go forward with sentencing.
Bell, speaking publicly for the first time about the incident, apologized in court to McKinney’s family and his own family.
“I’m very remorseful and ashamed for my role in all of this,” Bell said. “I’m deeply sorry for the pain and stress I have caused everybody.”
McKinney’s mother, Stephanie Robbins, said she has struggled to cope with the loss of her daughter, who is buried next to a sister who preceded her in death.
Speaking in court Wednesday, she disputed information that Bell’s attorney, Pat Bouldin, said Cesler provided to police indicating that McKinney was a daily heroin user.
“She got mixed up with a guy who convinced her that he loved her more than we did and that’s where she went wrong,” Robbins said. “This has never been about vengeance for us. ... I’m sorry to (Bell’s) family because they got dragged into this just like we did and they didn’t deserve it. I just want to go to bed tonight and feel there has been a semblance of justice so I can wake up the next day and start over.”
In deciding on a sentence, Stivers said this case had parallels to the case against Damir Zlatovic, who also ended up in federal court due to a fatal overdose.
Zlatovic was sentenced to 11/2 years after admitting selling an Opana pill in 2017 to a friend who shared it with Kiloisha Holley, who died after taking the drug.
Stivers noted that the boyfriends of both overdose victims avoided legal trouble despite buying the drugs and said that Bell appeared to have been a street-level dealer of serious drugs while evidence showed Zlatovic was more of a recreational drug user.
Bell’s lack of prior criminal history was a factor in his sentence.
“It’s my impression that (Bell) was a small-time drug dealer ... addiction is what killed Kaitlin,” Stivers said, noting that police found multiple syringes in Cesler’s vehicle and that Cesler kept naloxone on hand to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose.