The mother of overdose victim Antone Silvia is seeking justice for her son, taking the opioid epidemic and the supply of drugs head-on.
Brenda Williston-Floyd filed a criminal complaint against the man police say allegedly sold her son a lethal dose of heroin laced with fentanyl. A clerk magistrate issued the complaint for a manslaughter charge, and Aaron Bezahler, 22, of Edgartown, is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 14 in Edgartown District Court, just four days before his trial is set to begin on related drug charges.
Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe’s office did not pursue the manslaughter charge, despite evidence collected by the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force that showed the Tisbury man died shortly after purchasing the drugs.
Mr. Silvia, 26, died from a drug overdose — acute fentanyl poisoning, to be specific, but Ms. Williston-Floyd believes the evidence is overwhelming that her son thought he was injecting himself with a dose of heroin he could tolerate, according to court records.
“As a parent, I feel that these drug dealers need to be held accountable and serve prison time for what they are doing to our children. I realize that the drug dealers may not be forcing their drugs upon people, but in a sense with this sickness, the intense effects of withdrawals force our young people to seek out these dealers,” Ms. Williston-Floyd wrote in a letter to The Times. “I strongly believe that if a drug dealer sells something that takes a life, they should be held accountable.”
Attorney Jennifer Marcus, who is representing Mr. Bezahler in the drug case, told The Times the facts don’t support a manslaughter charge.
“I understand how she feels. I’m sympathetic to it. We all are,” Ms. Marcus said. “The police and DA’s office chose not to pursue this as a homicide. So they are in a position now of having to reevaluate that. That decision they made, they made for a reason, based on the facts of the case.”
Mr. O’Keefe’s office declined to answer specific questions about the case. “The matter has been under investigation since April of 2017. Massachusetts State Police detectives assigned to the District Attorney’s office have been working together with the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force and other local law enforcement to investigate and gather evidence,” Tara Miltimore, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office, wrote in an email. “Since there is a pending court matter, it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”
Ms. Williston-Floyd sought the manslaughter charge herself after learning that evidence gathered by the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force traced the deadly fentanyl back to Mr. Bezahler. Clerk magistrate Charles J. Ardito III, the Barnstable District Court clerk, brought the complaint forward based on the facts presented in statements. Mr. Ardito ruled on the case because Edgartown District Court magistrate Liza Williamson recused herself, citing her personal knowledge of the Silvia family, according to court documents.
“Mr. Bezahler’s negligence [led] to my son’s death,” Williston-Floyd wrote in her application for a complaint. “He was not honest with Antone and sold him heroin laced with fentanyl.”
In her letter to The Times, Ms. Williston-Floyd, wrote, “I recently lost my son to an awful drug out there that is killing our kids. Opioid addiction is an epidemic which is growing in our towns and taking the lives of our young people. With that being said, fentanyl is a powerful pain-relieving substance, and most people are not educated on what the substance can actually do to a person if not prescribed with the proper dosage. With an opioid addiction our family, friends, neighbors, etc., are getting drawn in and self-medicating with these drugs, until they unknowingly use a different substance which ultimately ends their life.”
An autopsy report that accompanied the application for a criminal complaint shows the level of fentanyl was 13 nanograms per milliliter. Fentanyl is a more powerful drug than heroin. “So by Antone thinking he was taking heroin, he gave himself a dosage that he knew he could handle. Since what he was given was fentanyl, it ended up being a lethal dose,” she wrote in the application for a criminal complaint.
Mr. Bezahler is scheduled for a jury trial starting Dec. 18 on charges of distribution of a Class A drug (heroin) and conspiracy to violate the drug laws.
Judge Thomas Kirkman has already ruled that statements made by Mr. Bezahler to police can be introduced at the trial, but has not yet acted on a motion filed Dec. 1 by Mr. Bezahler’s attorney, which seeks to keep any mention of Mr. Silvia’s death out of his trial. “Evidence relating to Antone Silvia’s death is both irrelevant and immaterial to the charges of distribution and conspiracy, and unfairly prejudicial,” attorney Marcus wrote. “The only purpose of admitting such disturbing evidence would be to arouse emotion and improperly inflame the jury.”
In his statement to police, Mr. Bezahler talks about Mr. Silvia’s death. “I’m getting blamed for someone’s [expletive] death,” he is quoted as telling the officer.
“Well, at the end of the day you got to take a little bit of responsibility,” the officer is quoted as saying.
“Yes. You’re right,” Mr. Bezahler replied.
In her motion to exclude mention of Mr. Silvia’s death, Ms. Marcus points out in her motion that the DA’s office isn’t seeking charges in the death. “The death in this case was deemed to have occurred three days after the alleged drug transaction, and the defendant has not been charged with homicide,” she wrote.
Mr. Silvia’s body was found April 23 at his Tisbury home after a friend called police, saying she had not heard from him in three days.
According to the police report written by Edgartown Det. Michael Snowden, Mr. Silvia was found in the bathroom floor with a spoon with a white substance on it next to him, and a uncapped syringe in his right hand. A timeline of witnesses and text messages shows the last person having contact with Mr. Silvia was Mr. Bezahler, through text messages that indicated a drug transaction had taken place between the two men.
Mr. Silvia had made plans to meet up with a woman on April 20 at 7:30 pm, but he never showed. He did not answer any calls or text messages from her, according to the police report. He also didn’t show up for work on April 21, the records show.
After inadvertently viewing the text conversation between Mr. Bezahler and Mr. Silvia, the officers applied for and received a search warrant to go through the phone. The last message Mr. Bezahler opened was three days before his body was found at 5:56 pm, the records show. “According to Antone’s phone, Antone never opened a message or texted another person again,” the report states.
The report includes 47 text messages made between Mr. Bezahler and Mr. Silvia on April 20. “The text messages above show a clear and obvious picture that Antone contacted Bezahler for one reason, to purchase narcotics,” the report states. There is never any indication that the drugs include fentanyl, just a downward arrow in the messages that is a reference to heroin, according to the records.
During a police interview that will be used as evidence at his Dec. 18 trial, Mr. Bezahler said a third person was present for the drug buy, and that he was just facilitating it. “I didn’t sell him the heroin that killed him,” he told police, according to the transcript.
Police doubted that story, pointing out that all of the texts were between Mr. Bezahler and Mr. Silvia.
Ms. Marcus said her client continues to maintain his innocence. As for who will defend him on the manslaughter charge, Ms. Marcus said that will ultimately be a superior court case, and she does not have the qualifications to defend in superior court.
The Silvia family lost a son, a brother, and a father. “He was a wonderful boy, he had a smile that lit up the whole room. He had such a big heart, and would help anyone that needed the help,” Ms. Williston-Floyd wrote. “I used to talk to him at a certain time every day. To this day, I still look at the clock waiting for him to call. I love him more than life itself, and miss him terribly. Some days the pain from losing him is unbearable.”
Mr. Silvia left behind a young son and his brothers and his parents, as well as his extended family.
“Words cannot express how much we miss him,” she wrote.
Her son loved fishing and hockey, and worked as a plumber on the Island.
“I am doing this to get justice for Antone; our family, and everyone that loved him,” she wrote. “I am also doing this with the hope that other families will never have to experience the same pain that we are. I will not stop until I prove my point.”