Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin announced that Aaron Andrade (age 25), of Providence, pleaded Nolo contendere today before Superior Court Justice Kristin E. Rodgers to one count of second degree murder for selling fentanyl that caused the fatal overdose to 29-year old Kristen Coutu, of Cranston, RI. Under the terms of the plea, Andrade was sentenced to 40 years with 20 years to serve and the remainder suspended with probation.
Had the case proceeded to trial, the State was prepared to prove that on the afternoon of February 17, 2014, Andrade sold Kristen Coutu $40 worth of "Diesel," a common street name for heroin. Shortly after meeting with Andrade and purchasing the drug, Coutu injected herself with what the State Medical Examiner determined was a lethal dose of fentanyl, causing her immediate death.
Cranston Police received a phone call from a resident in the area of 27 Hubbard Street reporting a 1999 silver Nissan Altima parked on the street with what appeared to be a woman slumped over the steering wheel. Police identified the woman as Kristen Coutu.
As part of the investigation, Cranston Police secured Ms. Coutu's cell phone where they found multiple calls and text messages between the victim and someone identified as "Lucky" listed in contacts on Ms. Coutu's phone. Through the investigation, police were able to identify Aaron Andrade as the individual who owned the telephone to which Ms. Coutu was texting. Working with the Pawtucket Police Special Squad, Andrade was arrested on February 26, 2014 in Pawtucket, at which time he was in possession of fentanyl.
When speaking with the police, Andrade admitted knowing Coutu and selling her "D" or "Diesel," in the area in which her body was found.
The State Medical Examiner determined the cause of death as fentanyl intoxication.
It was learned during the investigation that Ms. Coutu had been discharged from a residential treatment facility in Texas just two days prior to the incident because her insurance would not pay for coverage past 30 days.
This is believed to be the first time in Rhode Island that an individual has pleaded to a second degree murder charge for selling illicit drugs, and specifically fentanyl, that led to an overdose death, and one of only a handful of convictions across the country since the start of the opioid abuse and overdose crisis.
"Like many, Kristen struggled with addiction, but it was Aaron Andrade who knowingly sold her pure fentanyl, and today he will pay for his actions in peddling the deadly drug with no regard for lives of others," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "The opioid epidemic and overdose crisis continues to take victims from all socio-economic backgrounds and communities. While as prosecutors, we will continue to get those who traffic in these deadly drugs off our streets, we all need to do more to help those who struggle with addiction."
Attorney General Kilmartin has led efforts on the national level for additional federal funding for results-driven recovery programs, and has put forth legislation in Rhode Island that would provide that an insurance provider may not deny continued residential or inpatient treatment coverage due to medical necessity and appropriateness of treatment if the subscriber has been admitted and is currently in residential or inpatient services for a mental health and/or substance use disorder and the provider of treatment has recommended continued residential or inpatient treatment.
Cranston Police Detectives Kevin Antonucci, with assistance from the Pawtucket Police Special Narcotics Squad, led the investigation. Assistant Attorney General James Baum prosecuted the case on behalf of the Office of Attorney General.