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Sentencing delayed in fentanyl death case

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Federal Courthouse

Andrew W. Bogue Federal Building and United States Courthouse

A sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in Rapid City took a pause Thursday to allow the defense attorney on the case to read a document that informs the sentencing. 

The hearing centered around one of the people with charges related to the overdose death of a 16-year-old boy in Porcupine on Dec. 6, 2020. 

Donna Garnette pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance as part of a plea deal. Garnette is one of five who accepted a plea deal related to the death of Louis Sandoval, 16.

Tarriah Provost, Kelly Grass and Kimberly Janis have been sentenced already. Jesse Grass is awaiting sentencing. Provost gave a fentanyl pill to Sandoval. Court hearings and documents indicated she obtained it from Garnette at the Grass’s residence.

Garnette’s sentencing hearing started on Thursday morning. After 48 minutes, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier opted to continue the sentencing to another date after discovering defense attorney Connor Duffy had not read an addendum to the pre-sentencing report.

Duffy said the reason he had not read it was "likely" an oversight on his part, but he requested the time to read it. 

Although neither the pre-sentencing report nor the addendum are public, Schreier said the report contained a response from a probation officer recommending at what offense level Garnette should be placed, which determines the sentencing guidelines she would fall within.

Garnette’s offense level was one of the topics argued during the beginning of the hearing. Federal prosecutors sought to increase her level beyond what was initially calculated in her plea agreement. That initial calculation is not binding, so prosecutors can argue for a higher level.

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Because the defense had not yet read the addendum, the judge did not make a ruling on the offense level.

The prosecution did call one witness to the stand toward the beginning of the hearing. Special Agent Corey Dumdei of the Federal Bureau of Investigation answered questions regarding information he obtained during the investigation into the case.

He testified that Garnette’s Facebook messages, which were obtained with a search warrant, indicated Garnette bought, sold and coordinated sales and purchases of various pills.

Megan Poppen, who represents the United States in the case, painted a picture of Garnette as a frequent dealer of illegal substances and emphasized a sale Garnette supposedly made the day of the boy’s funeral.

Duffy argued that Garnette was no more responsible for the child’s death than the other co-conspirators and said the boy had cocaine in his system and had obtained marijuana that evening as well.

“We don’t know for absolute certain (what killed him),” Duffy said.

Another point of contention during the hearing was whether Garnette sold pills while on pretrial release.

Dumdie testified he interviewed a woman who told him she bought pills from Garnette in July 2021. Garnette was arrested in May 2021 and the court released her during her court proceedings. Garnette denied selling anything after her arrest, and her defense attorney argued the person who alleged she bought pills from Garnette in July 2021 was an addict who had no reliability in her statement.

A date for the sentencing to continue has not yet been set. 

— Contact Shalom Baer Gee at sgee@rapidcityjournal.com — 

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