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Boulder County drug dealer convicted of manslaughter after providing pills laced with fentanyl

Charging drug dealers with killing people who have overdosed is rare. Convincing a jury to convict them is even more uncommon.

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — Prosecutors in Boulder County say they’re looking to charge more dealers after a man was found guilty last week of killing a woman he supplied fentanyl to. 

"Our office took the step of filing manslaughter charges and taking the case to trial," Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said. "These cases are very resource-intensive in terms of the investigations."

Dougherty's office took the rare step of charging Sammy Valdez with manslaughter. When the crime took place in 2020, few dealers had ever been charged with killing someone they provided drugs to.

RELATED: Woman died after fentanyl-laced pills, man who sold them found guilty of manslaughter

The victim died after taking pills she thought were oxycodone.

"He certainly knew that the pills contained fentanyl and he failed to communicate that to her boyfriend who was buying those pills. In fact, he misrepresented what was in those pills when he sold them to the boyfriend," Dougherty said. "If this crime had been committed after the bill was signed by the governor, we would’ve been able to charge drug distribution resulting in death. But under the law at the time Mr. Valdez committed this particular crime, he was charged with manslaughter for causing the death of this young woman."

Dougherty said such charges won’t be rare for long. When the governor signed a new fentanyl bill into law earlier this year, it opened up more resources for prosecuting cases like this, giving DAs the ability to charge dealers with crimes that carry longer prison sentences.

RELATED: Gov. Jared Polis signs fentanyl bill into law

"I anticipate that you’re going to see more of these," Dougherty said. "The reason I say that is because the governor signing the fentanyl bill earlier this year, law enforcement now has additional resources statewide to conduct in-depth investigations, which is absolutely what we need to do for the victims and their loved ones."

Prosecutors can now charge suspected dealers with "drug distribution resulting in death," which Dougherty said carries a sentence of eight to 32 years in prison. Manslaughter, which Valdez was convicted of, carries a sentence of two to six years in prison.

Valdez was found guilty on all of the counts against him, including distribution of fentanyl and distribution of cocaine. He faces up to 26 years in prison when he is sentenced in February.

Dougherty said his office has already started looking into potential charges for more dealers.

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