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Photos of overdose victims motivate federal prosecutor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart carries the photos of drug overdose victims in his suit jackets on a daily basis.

U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart

“I keep them there in my pocket to remind me why it is we do what we do each day,” Stuart said Wednesday on MetroNews “Talkline.” “They’re images that once you see the ‘before and after’ you can’t get the after out of your head. Ever.”

One of the photos is that of a young Charleston woman who took what she thought was heroin last August, instead it was a mixture of of fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl. She did not survive.

The man who sold her the drugs, Christopher Tyler, 27, of Charleston, was sentenced Tuesday to more than 11 years in prison following an earlier guilty plea. Tyler said he also thought it was heroin.

Stuart said the victim’s mother is the real hero in the case for what she did after finding her daughter dead.

“She saw the phone clinched in her hand and this mom, smartly, bravely, courageously, pulled that phone from that stiffened hand and then used the thumb on her dead daughter’s hand to unlock that phone so that she could make sure she did everything she could to try and catch who was responsible for this,” Stuart said.

A conviction in similar drug distribution cases carries about a six-year prison term but Stuart and his office asked U.S. District Judge David Faber to go outside the sentencing guidelines.

“We did something unusual in this case at sentencing,” Stuart said. “We brought in a toxicologist. We brought in the medical examiner. We heard evidence of this girl’s death,” Stuart said.

Faber agreed to enhance the sentence, essentially doubling the amount of time Tyler will have to spend in prison.

Stuart also discussed another drug case on “Talkline” Wednesday. He said he recently turned down a request from a federal prison inmate, convicted for dealing drugs in Huntington in 2010, to spend his last weeks in a prison closer to his mother in Detroit. The convicted drug dealer has terminal cancer.

“I can’t reduce the term of sentence for those moms and dads who lost their children at the hands of this perpetrator so I won’t consent to it,” Stuart said. “I know that doesn’t sound empathetic but I’m not empathetic to drug dealers.”

Stuart said his office will continue to be tough on drug dealers. He said those photos in his pocket demand it.

“It gets emotional because when I hear their stories. When I see the moms and dads what I’m seeing are the faces of my kids in their faces,” Stuart said.

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