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‘Landmark’ Verdict: Riverside County man convicted of murder in fentanyl poisoning case

In a groundbreaking verdict, a Riverside County man has been found guilty of murder in a fentanyl poisoning case, marking a significant moment in the legal battle against the deadly opioid.

Vicente Romero, the defendant, was convicted by a jury after giving a fatal dose of fentanyl to Kelsey King of Temecula, resulting in her tragic death. This verdict is the first of its kind in Riverside County and may establish a legal precedent in California for holding fentanyl distributors accountable for their actions.

The trial concluded swiftly, with the jury taking just one day to reach a guilty verdict. The prosecution argued that Romero provided King with a single blue pill containing fentanyl, which they shared under an overpass. Tragically, King fell unconscious, and Romero awoke to the devastating news of her death.

District Attorney Mike Hestrin hailed the verdict as a "landmark" victory for the community, emphasizing that if someone is "peddling poison" and it leads to a death, incarceration is the appropriate response.

"The verdict is a testament to our unwavering commitment to protecting our communities," District Attorney Hestrin wrote in a statement.

Jennifer Loza, a mother from Bermuda Dunes who lost her 18-year-old son, Steven, to a fentanyl overdose, questions whether incarceration for drug-related crimes is the solution to the ongoing crisis.

"I don't know that sending people to jail for drug-related crimes really solves the crisis that's going on," Loza said.

Loza advocates for am approach focused more on addiction recovery and long-term solutions. She believes that accountability should be paired with a five-year-long treatment program, addressing the underlying mental, emotional, and physical health issues that often lead to addiction.

"We're focusing on punishment. But I don't see where there's any focus on recovery, healing," Loza said.

Michael Duncan, Romero's defense attorney, also questioned whether individuals like Romero should be labeled as murderers due to their involvement with drugs.

"Have we reached a point in this country where we call this person a murderer? Because we hate the drugs so much? I don't think so," Duncan argued. "Is that person, just another drug user...somebody who needs to be held as a murderer, when they didn't intend to kill anybody?"

Duncan pointed out that Romero, too, had taken the fentanyl with King, suggesting that he might not have realized the dose was deadly. He raised the question of whether someone who didn't intend to kill should be held as a murderer.

Romero's conviction represents the first of 23 active homicide cases in Riverside County related to fentanyl poisonings scheduled for trial. He is set to be sentenced on October 6 and faces a potential sentence of 15 years to life.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.


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