FRESNO, Calif. — U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd sentenced Darnell Pearson, 42, of Fresno, today to 30 years in prison for two counts of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death and serious bodily injury, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
“This defendant sold what his customers thought was cocaine that was, in fact, fentanyl and caused the deaths of two people and serious injury to two others,” U.S. Attorney Scott stated. “These two deaths were the first reported fentanyl overdose deaths in Fresno and Madera Counties. As they demonstrate, fentanyl is extremely dangerous and is a serious public health threat in our area and the nation as a whole. Even trace amounts of this drug can be lethal, and it poses serious risks to those who come into contact with it, including first responders. We will continue to work with our state and federal partners to target those who distribute this poison in our communities.”
“Fentanyl is man-made and potent in the smallest amounts. A few grains of the substance can lead to overdose, and we are increasingly seeing it sold as other illicit drugs. The message has been sent, if you distribute drugs that result in death and serious bodily injury, we will use every tool available to ensure that justice is served,” stated Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Daniel C. Comeaux. “I applaud the collaborative efforts and good old fashioned police work that led to the successful prosecution of this investigation.”
According to court documents, on Jan. 7, 2019, law enforcement officers responded to a call concerning an overdose in Fresno and found three individuals on the ground with faint or no pulse. All three individuals were transported to Community Regional Medical Center for treatment. One of the individuals was pronounced dead on Jan. 10, 2019. A toxicology report determined that the cause of death for the individual was overdose from fentanyl. The other two individuals survived and were later released from the hospital.
On Jan. 24, after a four-day trial, a jury found that the death resulted from the use of the fentanyl distributed by Pearson, and it caused the other two victims to suffer serious bodily injury. Pearson was convicted of a second count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death of a victim in Madera, and the jury found the death of this victim resulted from the use of the fentanyl distributed by Pearson. On Jan. 7, 2019, the victim, the mother of Pearson’s children, was found motionless on the floor of her bathroom by family members. Officers and paramedics were unable to revive her and she was pronounced dead that evening.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Drozd found that Pearson had obstructed justice during the investigation by deleting text messages between himself and the Madera victim in an effort to frustrate law enforcement. Additionally, Judge Drozd found that during the trial, Pearson obstructed justice by testifying falsely in an effort to mislead the jury resulting in an increased sentence. Even though Pearson may not have known he was distributing fentanyl and that his actions would cause the deaths of two people and serious bodily injury to two additional people, that was immaterial Judge Drozd said while imposing the sentence for Pearson’s distribution of drugs that had tragic results.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, the Fresno Police Department, and the Madera Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laurel Montoya and Michael Tierney prosecuted the case.