July 7, 2018 9:58:50 PM
BYRAM -- Mississippi anti-drug officials have handed off prosecution of a suspected drug dealer to federal officials in hopes of punishing him more harshly in connection with heroin overdose deaths.
The move comes after a bill to mandate harsher punishments in state law failed earlier this year in Mississippi's Legislature.
Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy confirmed Monday that the state handed off prosecution of 59-year-old Kelvin Roy Thompson of Jackson to federal agencies. Federal criminal sentences can be lengthened for people selling drugs resulting in overdose deaths.
Thompson has pleaded not guilty to three counts of distributing methamphetamine. He's being held without bail pending a trial currently scheduled for Aug. 27 before U.S. District Judge David Bramlette III in Jackson. He faces up to 120 years in prison if convicted of the methamphetamine charges.
Thompson's lawyer didn't immediately respond Friday to an email seeking comment.
Agents say they arrested Thompson in January with not only about 40 grams of suspected methamphetamine but also approximately four grams of suspected heroin. He was released from jail on bail and then arrested again in mid-February.
"There are a number of incidents relating to drug overdoses and drug overdose deaths that we are continuing to investigate with this individual," Dowdy said, saying Thompson was "moving a substantial amount" of illegal drugs in Jackson. Dowdy said following a news conference at bureau headquarters in Byram that there were no drug overdoses in Hinds County for two-and-a-half months after Thompson's arrest, indicating that showed Thompson's significance as a heroin dealer.
Federal law calls for a 20-year minimum mandatory sentence for selling an illegal drug if death or serious bodily injury results. Dowdy said state and federal agents continue to investigate overdoses with hopes of submitting additional evidence to U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst. Dowdy, a former federal prosecutor, said that could lead to Thompson being re-indicted for additional crimes.
House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Mark Baker, a Brandon Republican, proposed the unsuccessful House Bill 183. It would have required anyone who sold or transferred an illegal drug that resulted in death to be sentenced to at least 40 years in prison and up to life. It passed Baker's own committee, but died in the House Drug Policy Committee.
Baker said one Mississippi district attorney is trying to convict a drug dealer of second-degree murder in relation to an overdose, but that the matter is currently on appeal.
"The DA is having to try to work through the law that exists, that should have been much more clear cut and easier to get to."
Some people oppose the stiffer sentences like those set out under federal law, though. The Drug Policy Alliance, in a November report, said 20 states can charge people with murder or manslaughter in the case of drug overdoses. The alliance, though, derides those harsh sanctions, saying they are more of the failed idea that harsh sanctions will deter drug sales, when instead they'll only result in harsh sentences.
"Drug war proponents have been repeating the deterrence mantra for over 40 years, and yet drugs are cheaper, stronger, and more widely available than at any other time in US history," the alliance wrote.
The report's authors also warn that people may not seek assistance for someone suffering an overdose if they fear prosecution.
"People positioned to save lives are unlikely to call 911 if they fear being charged with murder or manslaughter," the alliance wrote.