A man who sold fentanyl pills that killed a 20-year-old college student in Temecula, prompting her father to initiate a nationwide campaign calling for action to break the fentanyl supply chain and bust the dealers, was sentenced today to nine years in federal prison.
Brandon Michael McDowell, 24, pleaded guilty in August to possession with intent to distribute fentanyl for causing Alexandra Capelouto's death in December 2019.
During a hearing at U.S. District Court in downtown Riverside, Judge Jesus Bernal imposed the sentence that he deemed appropriate under federal sentencing guidelines. McDowell was facing a maximum 20 years behind bars.
"On the night of Dec. 22, 2019, Alexandra asked the defendant if he could sell her Percocet pills, a prescription painkiller,'' according to the defendant's plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office. "The defendant agreed ... and sold her what turned out to be approximately 11 counterfeit Oxycodone pills that he later described as `M30s.' The defendant knew it was illegal for him to sell the pills and that they contained fentanyl."
The narrative stated that Capelouto "ingested half of one of the pills'' just prior to turning in for bed.
"The fentanyl entered her system, poisoning her body and causing her death," according to the brief.
Prosecutors said Capelouto was a student at Arizona State University and had returned home for Christmastime, during which time she contacted the defendant via Snapchat.
Alexandra's dad, Matt Capelouto, said his daughter did not realize she was ingesting fentanyl-laced pills.
"My daughter didn't want to die,'' he said during a news briefing in January 2022. "She took one pill, and it was not a wise choice. Everybody in the supply chain needs to be held accountable. The drug dealers, the cartels in Mexico, right back to China. This war is not fought with bullets. They're poisoning us from within."
News Channel 3 has spoken with Matt Capelouto in the past about the case, including his fight for legislative change and the dealer's arrest.
The case generated wide publicity and prompted then-Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, to introduce and then re-introduce "Alexandra's Law," Senate Bill 350, which failed in committee twice last year. It would have mandated that under state law, anyone convicted of dealing fentanyl or other potentially deadly drugs be issued a written warning that an overdose death resulting from providing such drugs in the future could result in the party being prosecuted for murder.
The intention was to facilitate the filing of homicide charges against dealers. Some prosecutors are pressing ahead with murder filings anyway. In Riverside County, nearly two dozen criminal complaints alleging murder from "fentanyl poisoning'' have been filed in the last two years.
Matt Capelouto founded several nonprofit organizations in the wake of his daughter's death, including www.DrugInducedHomicide.org.
The outraged and bereaved Temecula man has vowed to press forward with local, state and national efforts to raise awareness about fentanyl poisonings and the need for tougher laws and border security to interdict the flow of fentanyl into the United States and punish those responsible for its distribution.
The synthetic opioid is manufactured in overseas labs, and according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, it's smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border by cartels. The substance is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and is a popular additive, mixed into any number of narcotics and pharmaceuticals. The ingestion of only 2 milligrams can be fatal.
In 2022, there were about 415 fentanyl-induced deaths throughout Riverside County, while in 2021, there just under 400 poisonings, representing a 200-fold increase from 2016, when public safety officials say that only two such fatalities were documented.
Figures published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies show that fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 and 45 years old.