MOUNT VERNON — A 29-year-old Mount Vernon man was sentenced Wednesday to eight years, four months in prison for selling the drugs that killed two Skagit County residents in April 2018.
Justin O’Brien Miller pleaded guilty in December to two counts of controlled substance homicide for selling fentanyl-laced pills to 18-year-old Garrett C. Arendse and 28-year-old Rebecca L. Doyle.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
He also pleaded guilty to two other drug-related charges and a charge of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.
Skagit County Superior Court Judge David Svaren sentenced Miller to the maximum allowed under state law.
Miller’s sentencing came in front of a crowd wearing white sweatshirts emblazoned with “Remember Garrett” and a photo of Arendse.
“It has been a journey to hell and back many times,” Arendse’s mother, Lori Carpenter, wrote in a statement read in court by her brother.
Since his death, she wrote, she has been determined to make her son more than just a statistic of the opioid epidemic ravaging the country.
“If Garrett hadn’t received that fatal dose of fentanyl, someone else’s child would have,” she wrote. “Learn from Garrett’s mistake. Garrett trusted someone he didn’t know and paid the ultimate price. As much as I want my son back, my heart breaks at the thought of another mother living this.”
Just inches away from where Carpenter sat in the courtroom, another mother shared her pain.
Rebecca Doyle’s mother Heather Hunter Weber flew from Illinois to be at Miller’s sentencing, where she lamented the fact that Doyle’s son, who was 18 months old at the time of her death, will never get to know his mother.
“My heart hurts every day,” Hunter Weber said. “You have destroyed many peoples’ lives by distributing these pills.”
As Doyle’s younger brother spoke of the impact the loss of his older sister and “first friend” has had on him, Carpenter and Hunter Weber embraced, crying.
Miller apologized for the role he played in the deaths of Arendse and Doyle, but said he did not knowingly sell either of them fentanyl. If he had known the pills contained fentanyl, he said, he would have had nothing to do with them.
“You don’t think about these things before you do them,” he said. “(It’s) a mistake. One that’s not going to take me eight years to learn from.”
Miller said he did not suspect the pills contained fentanyl because he had taken them and had not overdosed.
Svaren said while Miller may not have known the pills contained fentanyl, he knew he was putting others in danger by selling them at all.
“You may have been one of the lucky ones that didn’t die, but two of the people you sold to were not so lucky,” Svaren said. “There’s nothing whatsoever you can do to bring back the two people who died.”
It was the third such sentencing — each of which has included hearing from the victims’ loved ones — Svaren had presided over in recent months, he said.
“Every time I sit through that, it’s agonizing,” he said. “The agony of the family is what’s so difficult for me as a person to watch.”
More than a dozen people have died from fentanyl in Skagit County in the past two years. Aside from Miller, two others have been sentenced to prison for their roles in the deaths of two people.
Three others are awaiting trial for their roles in the deaths of three people.