The death of a Rutland man two years ago spurred a series of criminal investigations that culminated with seven federal indictments on drug charges and six guilty pleas so far.
But the 28-year-old, David Blanchard who overdosed on heroin in a Rutland motel room on Aug. 29, 2012, is mentioned only in footnotes in federal court records and was never publicly disclosed at the time of his death nor investigated as a homicide by local law enforcement who quickly yielded to federal Drug Enforcement Agency interests in the heroin ring that sold Blanchard the fatal dose.
Members of the Vermont Drug Task Force had made a handful of undercover heroin purchases in early August 2012 from the drug distribution ring that federal prosecutors say was headed by Joshua “Rozay” Rose of Chester, N.Y.
But the investigation escalated after Blanchard was found dead with packets of “Flow” — the brand of heroin that Rose pleaded guilty last week to buying from dealers in the Bronx and bringing to the streets of Rutland.
Within a year, Rose and five other alleged members of the heroin ring were indicted on federal charges.
Two, Alan H. Willis II and Jean Marie Phillips, have already been sentenced. Willis, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin, was sentenced to 37 months behind bars while Phillips received a 13-month jail sentence for aiding and abetting Rose’s possession with intent to distribute heroin.
The other five conspirators, including Debra Bristol — who sold the heroin to Blanchard — and Rose, who sold the same bags to Bristol, according to U.S. District Court records, have either pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges or are poised to do so this week.
Rose, who pleaded guilty without the benefit of a plea agreement from prosecutors, faces a minimum of five years in jail and a potential maximum of 40 years behind bars.
But none of the accused face charges related to Blanchard’s death — an omission that pains his family members.
“We never got any kind of justice out of it,” said his mother, Shirley LaPine. “He was treated like just another addict who (overdosed).”
Blanchard was the father of a 2-year-old daughter and engaged to be married when he checked into a motel room and received a fatal dose of heroin.
The Flow heroin he took wasn’t tainted or packaged any differently than other bags of heroin for sale in Rutland, according to city police.
But LaPine said someone should have been held accountable for her son’s death.
“Someone should be brought to justice for his baby’s sake. She lost a father and it’s like nothing ever happened,” LaPine said.
Rutland Police Chief James Baker said it was never the intent of either his agency or the federal investigators who quickly took over the case to ignore Blanchard’s death.
“The night this happened there was a DEA agent with our guys and the feds took over the case almost immediately,” Baker said.
During the summer of 2012, federal agents with the DEA and several other agencies were working Rutland police as part of an effort to take drugs and guns off the city’s streets.
“That’s why the agent was with us that night,” Baker said.
Blanchard’s death was assigned to a detective with the city police department but no case was ever presented to the Rutland County state’s attorney’s office.
Two years after the fatal overdose, Baker said that might change.
The police chief recently ordered the commander of the city’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations to pull the case for review and he said once the drug charges in federal court are resolved, he will decide whether to forward a homicide case to the county prosecutor.
“We’re going to wait and see what happens at the federal level and decide where to go from there,” the chief said.
One of the things that Baker said he’s waiting to learn at the federal level is whether Blanchard’s death will add time to the jail sentences for Rose and Bristol.
“My understanding is that the death in this case will factor in at sentencing,” Baker said.
Craig Nolan, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, said that Blanchard’s death had been listed as a sentencing factor in Willis’ sentencing and would appear in sentencing arguments for the other members of the drug ring.
Rose began bringing heroin into Vermont in early 2012, according to court records, and he quickly recruited a number of people in the Rutland area to help distribute the drugs including Willis, Evan Murphy, Phillips, Charles Hercules and Devon Cruz — who went by the street name “Scrap.”
By May 2012, the state police drug task force had identified the operation and made an undercover purchase of cocaine from Rose.
But the New York man wasn’t charged with that sale until Sept. 12, 2012 — days after Rose was arrested in the Bronx in possession of 1,400 bags of heroin which he intended to distribute in Vermont, according to federal court records.
Rose has been behind bars in New York and Vermont since his arrest.
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