Manslaughter charge dropped in overdose case

DA, citing recent SJC ruling, clears Willoughby in woman’s death.

Jason Willoughby, shown here next to his defense attorney Robb Moriarty, is no longer facing charges of manslaughter in the overdose death of a Vineyard Haven woman. — Rich Saltzberg

Jason Willoughby is no longer being charged with manslaughter in the overdose death of a Vineyard Haven woman.

On Thursday, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe’s office dropped the charge issuing a nolle prosequi order in Barnstable Superior Court, according to a document obtained from the clerk’s office. Nolle prosequi is Latin for no prosecution.

Willoughby had been accused of selling the heroin laced with fentanyl that allegedly caused the death of his uncle’s girlfriend in 2018. An autopsy showed she died from acute fentanyl, heroin, Klonopin, and methadone intoxication, according to evidence discussed during an April court hearing

Willoughby was indicted in October of 2018 by a Dukes County Grand Jury and the case was moved to Barnstable Superior Court.

The brief document filed by Jessica Croker from O’Keefe’s office cites a Supreme Judicial Court decision in Commonwealth v. Carrillo and states “the facts do not support that the defendant knew or should have known that his reckless conduct created a high degree of likelihood of substantial harm, such as an overdose or death.”

Robb Moriarty, Willoughby’s defense attorney, said he will now work to have the other charges dismissed against his client. Willoughby was also indicted on charges of distribution of a Class B substance (fentanyl) and conspiracy to violate the Controlled Substance Act.

“It’s the appropriate action to take in light of the motion to dismiss and the [SJC] decision in Commonwealth v. Carrillo,” Moriarty said of the DA’s decision to drop the manslaughter charge. “As for the remaining counts, we intend to hold the commonwealth to its burden.”

In October, the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Jesse Carrillo vacated the conviction of Carrillo in the death of a 21-year-old graduate student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“To find a defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter caused by wanton or reckless conduct, our case law requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant engaged in conduct that creates ‘a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm will result to another’,” the opinion states. “Selling or giving heroin to another person may be wanton or reckless conduct where, under the circumstances, there is a high degree of likelihood that the person will suffer substantial harm, such as an overdose or death, from the use of those drugs.”

The prosecutor in the Carrillo case failed to demonstrate wanton or reckless conduct, according to the opinion. “We conclude that the mere possibility that the transfer of heroin will result in an overdose does not suffice to meet the standard of wanton or reckless conduct under our law,” the opinion states.

O’Keefe’s spokeswoman Tara Miltimore did not return calls or an email seeking further comment.

A motions hearing is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 17, at 9 am at Barnstable Superior Court.