Man indicted on murder charge in fatal heroin overdose

A Denham Springs man accused of injecting his girlfriend with a lethal dose of heroin this summer was indicted on a murder charge Wednesday in Baton Rouge, an unusual case that highlights the growing alarm over a spike in heroin-related deaths in south Louisiana.

An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury charged Jarret J. McCasland, 24, with one count of second-degree murder in the death of Flavia Cardenas, 19..

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said the charge is based on allegations the heroin was the direct cause of Cardenas’ July 26 death.

Cardenas is among more than two dozen people in the parish who have died of a heroin overdose this year, a fivefold increase over the year before.

In 1987, amid the American crack cocaine epidemic, lawmakers expanded Louisiana’s second-degree murder statute to include offenders who distribute an illegal drug proven to be the direct cause of a user’s death, even when that person lacked specific intent to kill.

Attorney Rodney Messina has said the law was meant to target drug dealers and not recreational users. He said cocaine and other substances besides heroin were found inside Cardenas after her death.

“One question is whether that’s anything Mr. McCasland distributed to her,” Messina said Wednesday. “That’s a hurdle the state’s going to have to get over.”

“Anytime you have an indictment it’s never good. But it’s by far no slam dunk for the state of Louisiana.”

Moore has called the case against McCasland “solid” compared to others he’s seen in the past. McCasland, who was booked in August, is expected in court Thursday to request a reduction in his $265,000 bail before state District Court Judge Don Johnson.

As authorities grapple with the resurgence of heroin, law enforcement officials are seeking to trace the origin of illegal drugs that have caused fatal overdoses. Under Louisiana law, a dealer distributing narcotics to a third-party who then provides the drugs to a victim also may be charged with murder in fatal overdoses.

Detectives searched the home of another local man in August after a 20-year-old was found unresponsive on his parents’ doorstep and later died of a heroin overdose. The suspect, Marvin Stone, has been booked on counts of drug possession.

In the Cardenas case, a witness told deputies McCasland administered cocaine and heroin to Cardenas at the witness’ home.

The witness told sheriff’s officials Cardenas didn’t know how to inject herself with the syringe and relied on McCasland to administer the drugs.

After leaving the witness’ residence, McCasland and Cardenas arrived at her mother’s home arguing about “some content on the victim’s cellular phone,” according to an arrest warrant. Cardenas’ mother, Nancy Cardenas, told the authorities her daughter seemed angry but had otherwise been acting normally.

The mother decided to make McCasland leave about 2:15 a.m. and went to her daughter’s bedroom, according to the warrant said. When she entered the room, she found her daughter to be lethargic.

McCasland did not want to leave and began yelling and slamming doors, the warrant said. He allegedly began beating on his girlfriend’s window and blowing the horn of his truck.

“The victim’s mother advised it was odd how her daughter, the victim, could sleep through that entire incident,” the warrant said. “However, she thought she was tired and let her sleep.”

Nancy Cardenas returned to her daughter’s room the next morning and, after finding her unresponsive, called for medical personnel. Flavia Cardenas was taken to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The parish has seen similar cases in the past, such as a grand jury indictment in 2002 that charged two people with second-degree murder in the death of a woman who overdosed on Ecstasy.

One defendant pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case while another was convicted at trial of negligent homicide.

And in 2001, a grand jury returned murder charges against two men accused of giving GHB, gamma hydroxybutyric acid, often dubbed the “date rape drug,” to a college student at a party. Both pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of negligent homicide.