Drug rehab counselor charged with murder in Navy man’s fentanyl overdose death

news

This undated photo provided by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office shows fentanyl pills.

(Associated Press photo)

VISTA, Calif. — Two years after a Navy man died from an overdose said to be linked to fentanyl-laced pills, local authorities have charged a drug rehab specialist with murder, accusing her of being a supplier in a chain that put the potent drug in the sailor's hands.


Summer Deanne Martin, 35, pleaded not guilty to that and other charges, including conspiracy, in a complaint filed by the district attorney's office last month. She is due back in Vista court Monday as part of her bid to post $250,000 bail.

At the center of Martin's case are counterfeit pills that often resemble prescription oxycodone but instead contain fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can turn fatal even in small doses. The Drug Enforcement Administration says it is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.

Authorities allege that Martin supplied the pills to a middleman, who then sold them to the sailor in early August 2017.

The sailor had a combination of narcotics in his system, including levels of fentanyl that the Medical Examiner's Office opined were within ranges associated with toxic effects and death, according to an affidavit seeking a warrant to arrest Martin.

Martin's case marks just the second time the District Attorney's Office has brought murder charges arising from the alleged sale of fentanyl linked to overdose deaths.

"It's extremely rare," Deputy District Attorney Jorge Del Portillo, who is prosecuting the case, said in an email. "Not every fentanyl dealer commits a murder when the sale leads to a (death)."

In this case, the prosecutor pointed to what he called the "defendant's specialized knowledge, informed by her years of experience as a drug counselor and addiction specialist, of the dangers of fentanyl."

An arrest-warrant affidavit filed last month states that Martin has bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology and a master's level certificate as a registered addiction specialist. It also states she was a certified drug and alcohol counselor, and was the clinical director of a rehabilitation facility in Orange County from September 2016 to January 2018.

"We will prove she appreciated the risks of selling fentanyl and consciously disregarded that risk when she sold the pill that killed a Navy sailor," Del Portillo said.

The prosecutor said there is no evidence that the sailor was a client of any rehab associated with Martin.

Martin's attorney, Peter Blair, on Friday said the prosecution's theory of murder in the case "is novel."

"It doesn't surprise me that they brought the charges, in light of the fentanyl and the political aspects of it, and the attention it's getting," he said.

But, he said, murder charges are "not appropriate in this type of case," citing what he said was an insufficient legal basis.

He said his client hasn't worked as a counselor in years, and more recently had been working as a consultant to help set up rehab facilities.

The first fentanyl-sales murder case the District Attorney's Office brought was against a Poway man who sold oxycodone pills laced with the drug to a friend, who later overdosed and died in November 2016. The defendant in that case pleaded guilty last year to voluntary manslaughter.

The case against Martin moves forward as another supplier she is allegedly tied to pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday. Federal prosecutors said Marcell Travon Robinson III admitted to distributing thousands of fentanyl pills to dealers in Southern California over three years. He is accused of selling thousands of illicit pills to undercover Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said the 31-year-old Robinson, who is from Riverside, has agreed to give up nearly $150,000 in cash and several firearms seized by authorities.

Martin is accused of texting Robinson sometime in September 2018 to arrange for fentanyl to be picked up in Mexico.

At that time, prosecutors allege, Martin was out of jail on bail, awaiting charges in a separate drug-related case arising from the investigation into the sailor's death.

The arrests of Martin and Robinson came as part of the lengthy NCIS probe after the sailor was found dead in his San Diego County residence on Aug. 8, 2017.

At his home, investigators found six blue pills that tested positive for fentanyl and other substances, including caffeine and acetaminophen, according to the arrest warrant.

"NCIS did a great job figuring out where the drugs came from," Del Portillo said. "They worked it up and located the sources and supply."

Martin's preliminary hearing, for a judge to determine if there is enough evidence to send her to trial, is set for Aug. 13. Robinson is slated to be sentenced in federal court Aug. 23.

———

©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

A student, attending the Burlington County Institute of Technology Medford public school, uses Navy Recruiting Command's virtual reality asset, the Nimitz, during the Philadelphia Swarm. A Swarm event is a large-scale recruiting effort run by the nation's top Navy recruiters to saturate a specified market with Navy outreach, information and recruiting assets Dec. 11, 2019 (Navy photo/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Diana Quinlan)

MEDFORD — The Navy does more than drive boats, but recruiters say students won't just learn that from reading a brochure nowadays.

The Nimitz, a virtual reality-filled tractor trailer used by recruiters, made its way to Burlington County Institute of Technology's Medford campus Wednesday, putting teenagers at the wheel of a boat through simulations of missions.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Air Force airmen from the 405th Expeditionary Support Squadron work together to clear debris inside the passenger terminal the day after a Taliban-led attack at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 12, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Brandon Cribelar)

Blasts from Taliban car bombs outside of Bagram Airfield on Wednesday caused extensive damage to the base's passenger terminal, new pictures released by the 45th Expeditionary Wing show.

The pictures, which are part of a photo essay called "Bagram stands fast," were posted on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service's website on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, June 17, 2017 (U.S. Navy photo)

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Shortly after seven sailors died aboard USS Fitzgerald when she collided with a merchant ship off Japan in 2017, I wrote that the Fitzgerald's watch team could have been mine. My ship had once had a close call with me on watch, and I had attempted to explain how such a thing could happen. "Operating ships at sea is hard, and dangerous. Stand enough watches, and you'll have close calls," I wrote at the time. "When the Fitzgerald's investigation comes out, I, for one, will likely be forgiving."

The investigations, both public and private, are out, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report assessing the changes to training implemented since the collisions.

So, am I forgiving? Yes — for some.

Read More Show Less
Belgian nurse Augusta Chiwy, left, talks with author and military historian Martin King moments before receiving an award for valor from the U.S. Army, in Brussels, Dec. 12, 2011. (Associated Press/Yves Logghe)

Editor's note: a version of this story first appeared in 2015.

Most people haven't heard of an elderly Belgian-Congolese nurse named Augusta Chiwy. But students of history know that adversity and dread can turn on a dime into freedom and change, and it's often the most humble and little-known individuals who are the drivers of it.

During the very darkest days of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, Chiwy was such a catalyst, and hundreds of Americans lived because of her. She died quietly on Aug. 23, 2015, at the age of 94 at her home in Brussels, Belgium, and had it not been for the efforts of my friend — British military historian Martin King — the world may never have heard her astonishing story.

Read More Show Less
A Ukrainian serviceman watches from his position at the new line of contact in Zolote, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine Nov. 2, 2019 (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

More than $20 million of the Pentagon aid at the center of the impeachment fight still hasn't reached Ukraine.

The continued delay undermines a key argument against impeachment from President Trump's Republican allies and a new legal memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Read More Show Less