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Murder charges on table for drug dealers
State law can hold sellers responsible for deaths
Lisa Z.png
Lisa Z

Drug overdoses continue to soar in Tennessee, ending lives and ripping apart families.

Prosecutors are fighting back using a state law that allows them to level second-degree murder charges against the drug dealer responsible for providing the deadly substance.

In the past month, grand juries in Coffee County and Rutherford County have indicted men for second-degree murder when investigators found they provided the illegal drugs which led to three overdose deaths.

In all three cases, fentanyl was involved.

District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis said she doesn’t currently have any local cases where second-degree murder charges are being pursued against a drug dealer, but she says her office is very much aware of that option.

“This is a law to go after drug dealers,” said Zavogiannis. “With all the problems we have with drugs and drug overdoses, this is something we have to look at as prosecutors. Our law enforcement is definitely aware of it and they take it into account during their investigations.”

Deaths involving synthetic opioids have risen in Tennessee from 77 deaths in 2012 to 590 in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The organization reports deaths from heroin in Tennessee increased during the same five-year span from 50 to 311.

“I don’t know how juries are going to react to this and I think proving it could be difficult, but I think we need to look at each one of these overdose deaths and see if it applies,” said Zavogiannis.

The Coffee County grand jury indicted Isaiah Clark, 26, in July for second-degree murder, claiming he distributed an illegal substance containing fentanyl that led to the death of two people.

Also in July, the Rutherford County grand jury issued second-degree murder indictments against Lacorious Fuller, 26, and Matthew James, 29, for a death involving fentanyl-laced heroin.