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Charge in drug-related death dismissed

A Blair County judge has dismissed a charge of drug delivery resulting in death but retained several other drug-related offenses against a New Jersey woman who was arrested nine months ago by Hollidaysburg police.

The arrest resulted from an investigation into the death of 34-year-old Whitney Gutshall whose body was found in her Clark Street home on Nov. 12, 2019.

Investigators found drug paraphernalia, pill bottles, Suboxone strips and bundles of heroin bearing the stamped names of “Big Bear,” “Savage 21” and “Balenciaga.”

They also found an open syringe on the floor of the victim’s home, according to a recent opinion by Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron.

Officers obtained a search warrant for the victim’s cellphone and read her Facebook page.

The investigation eventually led them to Taquila Thompson, 42, of Newark, N.J., a woman who had known Gutshall.

Hollidaysburg police charged Thompson with drug delivery resulting in death, dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities, criminal use of a communication facility, possession with intent to deliver and recklessly endangering another person.

Gutshall’s phone revealed she was in communication with Thompson.

During a pretrial hearing, Hollidaysburg Police Officer Richard Oldham revealed Thompson and Gutshall, in their conversations, used a variety of language that was consistent with the sale and distribution of drugs, and it was noted the two planned to meet.

A message from Thompson to Gutshall dated Nov. 11, 2019, requested money so she could “keep things moving.”

During a Dec. 15 pretrial hearing, Thompson’s Hollidaysburg defense attorney, Theodore J. Krol, focused on the cause of Gutshall’s death as revealed through a state police laboratory report and the autopsy findings.

Those reports revealed that drugs found in Gutshall’s home contained heroin and indicated that the drug fentanyl “was laced into the heroin.”

But as Krol pointed out, the cause of death was “Acute Combined Fentanyl and Cocaine Toxicity.”

The defense attorney emphasized there had been no evidence that linked Thomspon with cocaine.

The officer confirmed in his testimony that, based on the quantity and variety of drugs found in the Gutshall residence, “There is a high likelihood that the victim was also dealing with parties other than the defendant (Thompson).”

Milliron, in his ruling earlier this month, agreed with the defense that there was no testimony that linked Thompson to the cocaine found in Gutshall.

“The lab report identifies the controlled substances obtained at the scene of the overdose as fentanyl. …There was no testimony presented that the defendant (Thompson) provided the cocaine to the victim.” The judge ruled and dismissed the charge of drug delivery resulting in death.

Milliron dismissed the charge “without prejudice,” which means if additional evidence is found linking Thompson to the cocaine, the prosecution can refile the drug death charge.

Krol also argued that the testimony was insufficient to prove any of the charges against Thompson, but the judge, in his opinion replied, “That argument is far too much a reach as it applies to the charges of possession with intent to deliver, recklessly endangering another person and dealing in proceeds of an unlawful act.”

The testimony during the pretrial hearing was “more than sufficient” to support the possession with intent and recklessly endangering charges, Milliron stated.

He noted also the dealing in proceeds charge “can be established by inference from the testimony of Officer Oldham.”

The conversations between Gutshall and Thomspon were sufficient “to infer that the financial transaction required by statute occurred,” he concluded.

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