A federal judge today ordered that bail be cut in half for a 22-year-old Riverside man accused of supplying a lethal dose of fentanyl to a young Temecula woman, likely enabling the defendant to be released from detention pending trial.
Brandon Michael McDowell of San Bernardino was indicted last month on one count of distributing fentanyl resulting in a fatality, following a nearly two-year investigation into the death of 20-year-old Alexandra Capelouto.
Bail reduction motions submitted by McDowell's federal public defender were reviewed by U.S. District Magistrate Kenly Kato, who ruled that the defendant's bond requirement should be slashed from $200,000 to $100,000. Specific reasons for the reduction were not given, though it's possible McDowell's lack of prior criminal history factored into the decision.
A woman identified as Michelle McCarthy, whose relationship to McDowell was not disclosed in court documents, has already agreed to post the bond, offering her house on Larkspur Drive in San Bernardino as security. McDowell was expected to be released from federal detention Thursday afternoon. The defendant is due back in U.S. District Court in downtown Riverside for a pretrial hearing Monday.
If convicted, he could face a minimum 20-year sentence, and a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
According to prosecutors, on Dec. 22, 2019, Capelouto, a student at Arizona State University, was home for the Holidays and contacted the defendant via Snapchat to order Oxycodone, a prescription medication generally provided for relief of chronic pain.
McDowell allegedly sold the victim an undisclosed quantity of "counterfeit Oxycodone M30 pills," according to a U.S. Attorney's Office statement.
Capelouto's father, Matt Capelouto, has called his daughter's death a "fentanyl poisoning," saying she did not realize she was ingesting the deadly substance.
In a news briefing last week, he tearfully recalled that his daughter "did not want to die" and "did not make a wise choice."
The Capelouto case prompted Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, to introduce Senate Bill 350, which was rejected twice by the Democrat majority in the Senate Public Safety Committee. The legislation would have mandated that under state law, anyone convicted of dealing fentanyl or other potentially deadly drugs be issued a written warning that a death resulting from furnishing such drugs in the future could result in the party being prosecuted for murder.
However, some county prosecutors, including Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin and Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, have pursued second-degree murder charges against dealers who allegedly sold lethal doses of fentanyl anyway. Ten individuals in Riverside County have been charged in connection with fentanyl-traced fatalities.
The McDowell case was investigated by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, along with Riverside County sheriff's detectives and personnel from U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations.
Fentanyl is manufactured in China and smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border. Hestrin said "profit and greed" have led drug cartels to transport it across the border, where law enforcement is "not getting any help" stemming
"We're overwhelmed," he said during the briefing with Capelouto.
The synthetic opioid is known to be 80-100 times more potent than morphine and is a popular additive, seamlessly mixed into any number of narcotics and pharmaceuticals.
According to Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, data is pending, but it appears there were about 500 fentanyl-induced deaths countywide last year, which would represent a 250-fold increase from 2016, when only two such fatalities were documented.