TEMECULA, Calif. (KABC) -- In a first-of-its-kind California case, a Temecula man convicted of second-degree murder has been sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for the fentanyl-related death of a 26-year-old woman.
In early September, 34-year-old Vicente David Romero was found guilty in connection with the death of Kelsey King. Prosecutors said Romero knowingly supplied King with fentanyl in June 2020.
She died after ingesting half a pill while she was with him, they said.
At the time of the guilty verdict, it was the first of 23 active homicide cases in Riverside County related to fentanyl poisonings to go to trial. It was considered a landmark case in the state in which a person who knowingly supplied fentanyl was convicted of murder.
"The pain is paralyzing us some days," said a tearful Darnel Pryor, King's mother. "When he lied to her about the oxycodone, he took away the choice that my daughter would have had if she had known the truth, what she was really about to take, and I do not believe that she would have taken that at all."
"He carried fentanyl with him, knowing it was poison, like a gun, he loaded it, he pulled the trigger, killing her within three minutes. She died faced down in the dirt!" said King's father, Tim King.
During the five-day trial, the prosecution called 10 witnesses to testify and showed body camera footage in which Romero said he gave and split a pill known as a "blue" (also known as M30) with King, which he knew to contain fentanyl.
In an open plea to the court prior to the trial, Romero admitted to five additional charges, including possession of drugs while armed, being a convicted felon and drug addict in possession of a firearm, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
But what if Romero didn't intend to kill? How could he be charged with murder? Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said it's a legal theory based on a California Supreme court case known as the People vs. Watson.
"Watson refers to a Supreme Court case that allowed for prosecutors to charge someone with murder, second-degree murder, where the individual had not intended to kill, but had done something so dangerous to human life, having the subjective knowledge of that danger," he said.
Hestrin said with fentanyl deaths skyrocketing, something needs to change.
"We cannot say to the public, 'We care about this. We want this to stop, but we're not going to assign any significant consequences to someone who peddles this poison and kills someone.' We're hypocrites if we do that," he said.