Halethorpe man sentenced to 8 years in fentanyl overdose

Toward the end of his sentencing hearing Monday in Annapolis, Gabriel DelValle turned and spoke directly to the family of the man he’d sold a lethal dose of fentanyl.

“Drug addiction got the best of us,” said the 38-year-old Halethorpe man, dressed in dark green prisoner’s scrubs, leg shackles and white tennis shoes.


As he spoke, Donna King, the mother of the victim, Chris King, 27, stood up and walked out of the courtroom in tears. King’s brother, Louis King Jr., stared hard at DelValle and shook his head in palpable anger.

“I’m very sorry this happened. … I’m ashamed, but this disease is killing us,” DelValle continued. “I wish it was my life instead of Chris’.”


A Baltimore County man charged with selling a lethal dose of fentanyl a Pasadena man was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter Tuesday, the latest setback in an attempt by the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney to hold drug dealers responsible for overdose deaths.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge J. Michael Wachs sentenced DelValle to 20 years in prison, with all but eight suspended, on drug possession and distribution charges in a case the judge called “the absolute saddest of the opiate epidemic cases.”

He also was sentenced to five years of probation and 100 hours of community service per year for five years.

“I’ve struggled with this case, I really have,” Wachs said. “I’ve given it a lot of thought.”

Prosecutors unsuccessfully had sought involuntary manslaughter charges against DelValle in King’s death for selling what he thought was heroin to a fellow addict.

Wachs found DelValle not guilty on those charges last month, a blow to State’s Attorney Wes Adams’ strategy of pursuing harsher sentences for those who sell fatal doses of illegal drugs.

King was found dead of an apparent drug overdose in the 100 block of Homeland Road in Pasadena in January 2017. When DelValle was arrested in October, Anne Arundel County police said he sold King the fentanyl at a Royal Farms in Baltimore.

Assistant State's Attorney Jason Knight requested a 20-year sentence with all but 15 years suspended, “the only appropriate course of action,” he said, since DelValle already had violated probation and failed multiple times to undergo court-ordered drug treatment in previous cases.

Knight read from DelValle’s criminal record, which contained seven convictions over the course of 20 years, including one in which he was alleged to have stabbed a man in the chest, sending him to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center for treatment.

“His behavior is not going to change,” Knight said. “If he was still out there, he’d still be using and still be providing his poison to other people in Anne Arundel County.”

Donna King told the judge she had to quit her job to take care of her 6-year-old grandson, who is now fatherless. She asked for the maximum possible sentence, “so that no other family has to go through what we go through every day.”

Assistant Public Defender Caitlin O’Donnell told the story of DelValle’s 17-year addiction and his arrangement with King — in which DelValle would drive to Baltimore, pick up heroin and split it with King, who would pay for it.

That didn’t qualify DelValle as a drug dealer, O’Donnell argued, so much as an addict finding a way to get high.


“He’s doing what heroin addicts do,” she said.

The tragedy carried a degree of randomness, the defense attorney added, because DelValle easily could have been the one who died.

“Had they split it the other way around, it could have been him,” she said.

Wachs noted that there was no evidence DelValle knew the drug was fentanyl.

“If I thought for a second the defendant knew it was fentanyl, the sentence would be very different,” he said.

The judge, who previously had suggested that the General Assembly introduce legislation establishing criminal charges for drug dealing that leads to a death, reiterated that suggestion Monday.

“The sentencing guidelines don’t seem to match up with this case,” he said.

King’s family said they were upset DelValle’s sentence wasn’t longer. They plan to pursue legislative action in the General Assembly to address the issue, his brother said outside the courtroom after the hearing.

“We plan to take them to task to work in a bipartisan way to hold dealers and pushers accountable for pushing poison and death into the community,” Louis King said. “They are obligated to protect their constituents.”

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