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Dealer convicted in fentanyl death to be sentenced

The trial focused on one victim, Jonathan Ellington. But prosecutors believe Bruce Holder was responsible for several other deaths

DENVER — The first person in Colorado to be convicted in federal court for distributing fentanyl that killed someone is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in Denver.

Prosecutors said Bruce Holder worked with multiple co-conspirators, including his wife, children and other members of his family, to distribute spiked fentanyl pills that looked like oxycodone pills. Records say Holder imported tens of thousands of these pills from Mexico into western Colorado, where he and his co-conspirators distributed them to make money. 

The trial focused on one victim, Jonathan Ellington. The 30-year-old died after taking one of these pills in 2017. Prosecutors argued at trial that Holder and his co-conspirators continued to distribute these counterfeit pills despite knowing of Ellington's death. 

While prosecutors only focused on Ellington's death during the trial, they believe Holder was responsible for several other deaths. In court records, the prosecution said they believe fentanyl distributed by the defendant contributed to eight more deaths.

The U.S. Attorney's Office initially filed charges against Holder after the death of 32-year-old Ashley Romero. The government dismissed those charges "in the interests of seeking a more efficient presentation at trial."

It's been more than four years since Romero died. Her mom, Andrea Thomas, is ready to see Holder face sentencing this week.

"There is no amount of justice that will ever bring our daughter back, or all of the other lives that were lost," Thomas said. "But accountability is very important."

Thomas said she was asked to make a victim impact statement more than a year ago. She plans to finally deliver those words during Holder's sentencing hearing in Denver. 

She wants Holder to spend the rest of his life in prison.

"He knew exactly what he was doing, and he was doing this to make a dollar," she said. "His sentencing will be very important to the state of Colorado moving forward and hopefully put our state in position where people are not so eager to go out on the streets and deal fentanyl."

No sentence will bring Thomas' daughter back, but she's ready to see Holder face consequences.

"We serve a life sentence. I have a 13-year-old grandson that will never see his mother again. She will not see him graduate. She will not see his children," she said.

Holder was arrested in August 2018. After an 11-day jury trial, he was convicted in April 2021 of Conspiracy to Distribute Fentanyl and Counterfeit Substances, Distribution of Fentanyl Resulting in Death, Distribution of Fentanyl, and Distribution of a Counterfeit Substance.

Court records say Holder bought the drugs for $12 per pill, then sold them for between $20 and $30, or more, per pill.

U.S. Attorneys have requested Holder spend life in prison.

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