Jury: Forshey not guilty in drug death
Hollidaysburg man convicted on other charges
HOLLIDAYSBURG — A Blair County jury took 3.5 hours to convict a Hollidaysburg man of four drug-trafficking offenses while acquitting him on a felony charge of drug delivery resulting in death.
Michael Lee Forshey, 39, was accused of supplying the heroin laced with fentanyl that led to the April 2, 2018, fatal overdose death of 46-year-old Ronald Baker of East Freedom at his home.
Despite the acquittal, Forshey still could be facing significant jail time based on the guilty verdicts and his criminal history, District Attorney Pete Weeks said Friday.
Online court records show that since 2013, Forshey has rendered guilty pleas at least eight times in Blair County Court to possession with intent to deliver, plus related offenses, initially leading to probationary sentences, then later, to state and county prison sentences.
At the time of the Baker’s death, Forshey was living at a halfway house in Coalport as part of a state parole program.
On Friday, the jury convicted Forshey of possession with intent to deliver, criminal use of a communication device, recklessly endangering another person and possession of a controlled substance.
Judge Jackie Bernard, who presided over the trial, told Forshey that his sentencing will be scheduled in about three months after completion of a pre-sentence investigation. In preparation, the judge directed Weeks and defense attorney Doug Keating to provide her with state sentencing guidelines and memorandums.
Forshey, who maintained in pre-trial hearings that he did not provide the drugs that led to Baker’s overdose, reacted to the verdict by shaking Keating’s hand. Forshey didn’t take the stand in his own defense.
During the trial and in his closing statement, Keating tried to convince the jury that the case was full of reasonable doubt and unanswered questions.
“They’re asking you to speculate too much,” Keating said.
Weeks praised Freedom and Blair Township police departments, along with the coroner’s office, for their investigations into Baker’s death and their pursuit of information.
Dr. Harry Kamerow, a forensic pathologist, told the jury that he performed an autopsy at the request of the coroner’s office to determine why Baker died. He said he identified heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine in Baker’s body, with fentanyl being “the dominant compound” responsible for his death.
The fentanyl level, Kamerow told the jury, was three times higher than the amount delivered through a prescribed fentanyl patch to treat pain. Kamerow said the source of the fentanyl was the heroin.
Trial testimony indicated that Baker secured heroin on the day of his death.
His girlfriend, Krista Frantz, told the jury that Baker was at her Duncansville residence on April 2, 2018, before leaving to buy heroin, and he showed it to her when he returned. She said he indicated he was going to sell it. She later took a phone call from Baker’s mother, who had found her son unresponsive in the bathroom of their East Freedom residence.
Freedom Township Police Chief Nathan Claycomb, who went to the mother’s residence, met with Frantz and reviewed text messages between Baker and Forshey. He also met with Forshey, who denied selling the heroin that led to Baker’s death.
Even though the jury didn’t convict on the drug delivery resulting in death charge, Weeks said he was pleased that they reached convictions on Forshey’s other charges.
“Drug delivery resulting in death is a difficult charge, but the jurors clearly held him responsible for a drug sale that was set up through text messages,” Weeks said.
“It also shows,” Weeks said, “that a small police department took an investigation and came up with enough evidence for the jury to reach those convictions.”
Forshey’s jury trial was the first to be held in Blair County since March, when coronavirus concerns were developing and court operations were scaled down to minimal levels. In preparation for trial, arrangements were made so jurors were seated at least 6 feet from each other.
Bernard, Weeks and Keating expressed their thanks to the jurors who participated in the three-day trial.
“At a time when people are talking about shutting down businesses, shutting down schools and now sports, I recognize how difficult it would be for 12 people who don’t know each other to go into a room and deliberate,” Weeks said. “But their service was very much appreciated.”
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.