HEROIN DEALER CONVICTED OF MANSLAUGHTER
Beaufort, North Carolina – District Attorney Scott Thomas announced that, in Carteret County Superior Court Thursday, APRIL GUTHRIE THOMAS, 34, of Newport, was convicted by a jury and sentenced by the presiding judge to prison for Involuntary Manslaughter and Delivery of Heroin in connection with her sale of heroin to Kendal Walbert in 2014. The case was prosecuted as Second-Degree Murder; however, the jury verdict was for the lesser offense of Involuntary Manslaughter.
Mr. Walbert died of a heroin overdose in mid-August 2014, after purchasing the drug from April Thomas and co-defendant Michael Becker. Becker testified for the State at Thomas’ trial. Evidence at trial showed that the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call of an overdose at Mr. Walbert’s residence in Newport, called in by his girlfriend. They found Mr. Walbert’s body in the bathroom. A review of his cell phone showed text messages between Mr. Walbert and April Thomas, where Mr. Walbert was asking urgently for heroin. Thomas responded that her boyfriend, Michael Becker, would deliver the heroin to Mr. Walbert. April Thomas admitted later that she had traded the heroin for the remaining balance on a Food Stamp card, which turned out to be a zero balance. Within hours of the delivery of the heroin, Mr. Walbert was dead. Trial evidence also showed that April Thomas had been the seller in several undercover purchases of heroin in the weeks leading up to – and in the weeks following — Mr. Walbert’s death. Sheriff’s Office detectives obtained a search warrant as a result, and found packaged heroin and other drugs at April Thomas’ residence.
The Sheriff’s Office investigators conducted a videotaped interview of April Thomas after her arrest, and the video was played at trial. In that interview, Thomas stated that she bought her heroin from a local supplier and did not “cut it,” but just bagged it up herself. She bragged that it was “strong stuff” and that two people had overdosed in her home on it and that she had overdosed on it twice herself. She stated the fact that she did not “cut” her dope was the reason she “had a lot of customers.”
Presiding Superior Court Judge Phyllis Gorham sentenced April Thomas to a prison term of 28 to 43 months for the Involuntary Manslaughter charge, and a consecutive sentence of 15 to 26 months on the Delivery of Heroin charge. The total sentence was 43 to 69 months. Both of these sentences were the maximum sentences allowed by law. Thomas was convicted in August, 2015, of Sale of Heroin and Sale of Cocaine, and is already serving a prison sentence which will not be complete until September 1, 2018, at the earliest. The sentences imposed by Judge Gorham will not begin until Thomas has finished serving her prison sentences for the prior convictions.
The case was prosecuted in court by Assistant District Attorney David Spence, and investigated by the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Morehead City Police Department.
District Attorney Scott Thomas said, “This drug dealer has been prosecuted and held accountable for the death resulting from her delivery of heroin. We prosecuted this drug overdose death as second degree murder which is allowable under the law. In these cases, the jury has the option of finding the defendant guilty of second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter or not guilty. We believe sufficient evidence of second degree murder was presented at trial, but respect the jury’s verdicts of guilty to involuntary manslaughter and delivery of heroin. This prosecution and conviction should put drug dealers on notice that they will be prosecuted for deaths resulting from their illegal drug sales whenever sufficient evidence exists. We approach overdose deaths just as we do other death investigations and do not treat them as just another overdose. We have several ongoing investigations into other overdose deaths in our district and will file charges if sufficient evidence is established. The battle against drugs requires a comprehensive approach to include education, prevention, treatment, and tough enforcement. In law enforcement, we are doing everything we can on the tough enforcement front to investigate, arrest and prosecute drug dealers. We encourage everyone to get involved and help in the areas where they can make a positive contribution.”
Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck added, “We are pleased that the jury came back with a guilty verdict that holds the offender in this case responsible for the death of one of our citizens who died as a result of a drug overdose. Drug abuse and drug dealing are not victimless crimes and drug addiction is a scourge on our society. I hope drug dealers realize that when someone dies of a drug overdose, we will do what we can to investigate these deaths and when we can establish probable cause that their drugs contributed to the death, we will bring criminal charges against them and prosecute them.”
NOTE: Under North Carolina Structured Sentencing law, a convicted criminal defendant must serve all of the minimum active sentence and may be required to serve up to the maximum sentence. Upon release at the conclusion of the prison sentence, a nine to twelve month period of post-release supervision by a probation officer is required.