Text messages cited in heroin death trial
HOLLIDAYSBURG — Prosecutors are pointing to text messages as evidence that an area man sold heroin laced with fentanyl leading to the 2018 fatal overdose of an East Freedom man.
Krista Frantz of Duncansville told a jury in Blair County Court on Wednesday that she read the text messages — on a cellphone — exchanged by her late boyfriend, 46-year-old Ronald Baker, and Michael Lee Forshey.
Forshey texted he just got some good “D, as in dope,” Frantz testified about the exchange of text messages between Forshey and Baker that she believes led to a sale on April 2, 2018. At that time, Forshey was living in a halfway house in Coalport as part of a state parole program.
Frantz, who said she didn’t know Forshey, testified that Baker stopped at her residence on April 2, 2018, with a small plastic bag of heroin she thought he was planning to sell.
A few hours later, Frantz said she got a phone call from Baker’s mother who said that her son had overdosed and died.
“He was laying on the (bathroom) floor,” Baker’s mother, Donna Diehl, told the jury. “I tried to get him up, but he wouldn’t get up.”
Ambulance crews transported Baker to Conemaugh Nason Medical Center in Roaring Spring, where he was pronounced dead. Prosecutors said Baker’s autopsy showed heroin and fentanyl in his blood.
Defense attorney Douglas Keating asked the jury in his opening statement to keep an open mind as they consider the charges Freedom Township police filed against Forshey, including drug delivery resulting in death.
“It’s unfortunate that Ronald Baker died,” Keating said, before reminding the jury that it was Baker who made the decision to put a heroin-filled needle into his arm.
“Did my client provide the heroin (that killed Baker)?” Keating asked. “I submit that the Commonwealth can’t prove that.”
District Attorney Pete Weeks and Assistant District Attorney Katelyn Hoover are asking the jury to return guilty verdicts not only on the drug delivery resulting in death charge, but also on related charges, including criminal use of a communication device, possession with intent to deliver, recklessly endangering another person and possession of a controlled substance.
“You’ll find the defendant guilty based on your common sense,” Hoover said in her opening statement.
The trial, scheduled to last through Friday, is the first to be convened since March, when concerns over COVID-19 began to surface.
In preparation for trial, county workers created a raised platform behind the jury box in a recently renovated courtroom so that jurors can be seated at least 6 feet away from each other.
The county also has installed clear acrylic panels around the witness box so witnesses can remove their facial masks while testifying.
Judge Jackie Bernard, who is presiding over the trial, said the clear panels will provide COVID-19 protection and allow the jurors to see the witnesses’ facial expressions.
In addition, attorneys involved in the trial agreed to display trial-related information and exhibits on a large screen in the courtroom, a task that prevents the need to pass items from juror to juror as has been done in past trials.
Before the trial started, Bernard asked the panel of 12 jurors and one alternate if they had any concern keeping them from being fair and impartial in this case. No jurors responded.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.