The two mothers knew each other.
They'd bump into each other at the store in their small Western Maryland town. Their girls even played together and had a sleepover.
So Laureen Angle could only say it was "very difficult" yesterday morning when she saw the other mother, Kathleen Ann Harris, admit in federal court that she sold the fatal dose of methadone to Angle's 17-year-old son.
In a case that rocked Washington County last summer, the 39-year-old woman pleaded guilty yesterday to a single count of illegally supplying prescription painkillers to Boonsboro high school students, including Harry L. "Trey" Angle, who died in July. The rare federal charge, which holds drug dealers responsible for the death of their customers, carries a minimum penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life behind bars.
"Yes, your honor. I did sell Trey" the methadone that killed him, a tearful Harris told Judge J. Frederick Motz in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
As part of her plea agreement, Harris, who now lives in Olney, agreed to assist federal prosecutors in their case against her former boyfriend, Robert Carroll Eichelberger of Hagerstown. Eichelberger, 37, and Harris were charged last fall with distributing methadone on July 25 that led to Trey Angle's death.
"She's sorry for what she did. She apologizes," Harris' attorney Gary E. Proctor said after the hearing. "She now accepts the consequences for what she has done."
Under federal law, a 20-year minimum sentence applies when death results from the distribution of controlled substances such as methadone or oxycodone. However, Harris' plea agreement also calls for the government to ask for a substantial reduction in her prison term if she fully cooperates with prosecutors in other cases.
With cooperation, Harris' prison term is likely to be scaled back to between about 11 years to 14 years, court documents show.
Eichelberger has pleaded not guilty. His trial is set for April. A call to his attorney was not returned yesterday.
According to court papers filed with Harris' plea, Eichelberger and Harris worked together since 2006 to sell prescription-only medication - methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone. Prosecutors said Harris, who appeared in court yesterday walking with a crutch, had a legitimate illness that required some of those medications.
For six months last year, court records say, Eichelberger and Harris sold drugs to Trey Angle several times.
The high school student and Eichelberger arranged on July 25, 2007, to complete another drug sale, prosecutors wrote. Harris and Eichelberger went to Trey Angle's home to sell him drugs. All three drank alcohol together, according to prosecutors.
Court papers say Harris carried the drugs in her purse, and sold the methadone pills to Trey Angle. After falling asleep that night, the 17-year-old on summer break never woke.
According to a medical examiner's report, Trey Angle died of methadone and alcohol intoxication. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert R. Harding told the judge yesterday that the amount of alcohol was minimal, producing a blood-alcohol level less than the legal threshold for drunken driving.
"Methadone," Harding said. "was very much the cause of death."
Prosecutors revealed for the first time that witnesses testified before a grand jury about the drug deals. Investigators also discovered voice mail messages left by Harris on Trey Angle's cell phone talking about drug deals.
In recent years, Maryland has seen a drastic increase in the number of methadone-related deaths. The synthetic opioid is used to treat heroin addiction and chronic or terminal pain; it eases the painful symptoms associated with heroin withdrawal.
Trey Angle, who had been arrested for drunken driving, had been in substance-abuse treatment before, admitting to his parents that he had smoked marijuana. But they said they never suspected he was also abusing methadone.
The teenager's mother and father, now divorced, appeared in court yesterday for the guilty plea, accompanied by relatives from both sides of their family. The Angles expressed support for prosecutors' decision to give Harris a plea deal in exchange for her cooperation.
But the pain from their loss remains fresh. Trey's father, Harry Angle, dressed in black and wore a picture of his son around his neck.
"It's just a hard day," he said.