Feb. 2-A drug dealer convicted in the fentanyl overdose death of a woman in Lafayette was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison.
Sammy Valdez, 23, was found guilty by a Boulder County jury in October of manslaughter, four counts of distribution of a controlled substance and one count of possession with intent to sell.
On Thursday, Boulder District Judge Nancy Salomone sentenced Valdez to five years in the Colorado Department of Corrections on the manslaughter charge for the death of Valetta "Lola" Kroeger, 21.
"I know that you didn't mean to cause her death, but you did a thing that the jury decided and the court believes and knows was reckless and dangerous and it caused the Kroeger family to lose her," Salomone said. "And when I look at that action, it wasn't intentional, but you made a decision for $15 a pill to risk someone's life, and that family bears the loss of that $15-a-pill decision that you made.
"It was $15 a pill for you, and they have lost a child and a sister and a partner and a friend."
According to an affidavit, police were called to a home in Lafayette on March 19, 2020, after Kroeger's boyfriend woke up to find Kroeger not breathing and not responding. Paramedics responded, but she was declared dead on the scene.
The boyfriend told police he had bought oxycodone pills from Valdez, his normal dealer, and that he and Kroeger each took one before going to sleep.
In examining the pills, police noted that they appeared to be counterfeit oxycodone pills. The pills were sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and tested positive for fentanyl.
When questioned by police about the counterfeit pills, Valdez said he did not know he was selling counterfeit pills until February 2020, at which time he told his supplier he would no longer buy them because he knew they were associated with overdose deaths.
But according to the affidavit, evidence recovered on Valdez's phone indicated Valdez knew he was selling counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl.
"I also have to consider, and I thought hard about this, but based on the evidence I heard ... you knew what you had was fentanyl, and you knew that fentanyl was dangerous," Salomone said.
Boulder Chief Trial Deputy District Attorney Adam Kendall had asked for the maximum sentence on the manslaughter count.
"There is nothing more serious than being responsible for the loss of life," Kendall said. "We know it wasn't intentional, it was not after deliberation, but his actions led to (Kroeger's) death, that is what a jury determined."
Several family members recalled their memories of Kroeger as a slideshow of pictures played in the courtroom.
"They're destroyed," Kendall said. "They're destroyed because of fentanyl; they're destroyed because of the actions of Sammy Valdez."
Kendall also noted that, "Unfortunately, the Kroeger's experience has become all too common in Colorado." He noted that updates in laws meant that Valdez would be facing eight to 32 years of mandatory prison time if he were convicted for the same thing today.
"Given the tragic death of this victim and this defendant's actions, this defendant deserves to be in state prison," Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said in a statement. "In today's sentencing hearing, the victim's family shared their unimaginable loss and grief with the judge; it is a heartbreaking case. Our team was honored to fight for justice for the victim and her loving family.
"Fentanyl dealers, such as this defendant, seeking to profit from dealing deadly drugs must be held fully accountable."
Valdez was remanded into the custody of the Boulder County Sheriff's Office to await transportation to prison.
Valdez did not speak at the hearing, instead resting on statements he made during a pre-sentence investigation.
Valdez's defense attorney Steve Louth said Valdez had taken steps to clean up his life and that prison would undo that work.
"I submit to the court that it does nothing to honor this young woman's life to send Mr. Valdez to prison," Louth said.
Louth and several of Valdez's friends and family were warned several times by Salomone after they spent a considerable amount of their time at the hearing arguing facts of the case and Valdez's ultimate role in Kroger's death.
At one point, Louth went as far as to accuse prosecutors of "contrived evidence" and racial bias from the jury, which drew a sharp rebuke from Salomone.
"This is not a retrial, and the court has no authority nor any reason to disregard the verdict of the jury," Salomone said.
Salomone said Valdez took some responsibility for his actions, primarily dealing drugs, but not necessarily for Kroeger's death. But Salomone gave Valdez credit for at least that after hearing the statements of his family and attorney.
"You said some really insightful things in the pre-sentence report, and I appreciate them even more when I see the influences that are pressing you to deny you did something wrong," Salomone said. "You haven't been fully accountable, but you haven't said some of the things that I now see are being said to you."
But Salomone said that despite Valdez's age and support system being in his favor, a probation sentence was not appropriate given the impact his actions had on Kroeger's family.
"There isn't anything that is going to be gained to you or to your family by a sentence to the Department of Corrections, but when I consider all the things I have to consider, what strikes the court is the need to impose a consequence that is a real consequence to you because of the real consequences that these folks (the Kroegers) are living with and will live with forever," Salomone said.
As Kendall noted in his last statement to the court, "No matter what sentence the court imposes here today, Mr. Valdez will eventually get to see his friends and his family and his children and his partner. That's something that the folks on this side of the courtroom will never get because Lola is gone, and she is never coming back. This sentence should reflect that."