BEAUFORT — A Newport woman has been convicted of manslaughter in the death of a man to whom she sold heroin.
April Guthrie Thomas, 34, was convicted by a jury and sentenced in Carteret County Superior Court on Thursday of involuntary manslaughter and delivery of heroin. The case was prosecuted as second-degree murder, but the jury opted for the lesser charge.
Presiding Judge Phyllis Gorhman sentenced Thoams to a total of 43 to 69 months, the longest sentence allowed by law. Thomas had already been convicted of the sale of heroin and cocaine in August 2014 and is already serving a sentence for that. The new sentence won’t begin until she has finished serving her earlier punishment, which will be on Sept. 1, 2018, at the earliest.
In mid-August, 2014, Kendal Walbert purchased the drug from April Thomas and her co-defendant, Michael Becker, and died of an overdose, according to evidence presented in court by the district attorney's office. Becker testified against Thomas in the trial.
Evidence showed that the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office responded to an overdose call at Walbert’s Newport residence, made by his girlfriend. Walbert’s body was discovered in the bathroom.
A review of his cell phone showed texts between himself and Thomas, desperately asking her for heroin. She responded that she would send her boyfriend, Becker, with the drugs.
Thomas later admitted that she had traded the heroin for the remaining balance on a food stamp card, which turned out be a zero balance. Within hours of the deliver, Walbert was dead.
Trial evidence also showed that Thomas had been the seller in several undercover purchases of heroin in the weeks leading up, and after, Walbert’s death. A search warrant was issued, and packaged heroin and other drugs were found at her residence.
In a taped interview shown at the trial, Thomas told investigators that she bought heroin from a local supplier and did not “cut it,” but bagged it up herself. She bragged that it was “strong stuff” and that two people had overdosed in her home on it, and that she had overdosed on it twice herself. She said in the interview that the fact she did not “cut” it was the reason she had “a lot of customers.”
District Attorney Scott Thomas said his prosecutors proved the second-degree murder case, but was still happy for the conviction.
"Under N.C. law, you charge a person with second-degree murder if they have sold drugs to a person and they die as a result," he said. But “the jury has the option of finding the defendant guilty of manslaughter.”
He added that, "the take-away on all this is that it should put dealers on notice that they will be prosecuted for deaths resulting from their illegal drug sales whenever sufficient evidence exists.”
He said that other overdose deaths in the district are being investigated for possible similar prosecutions of other drug dealers in Craven, Pamlico and Carteret counties.