Inmate Found Guilty on All Charges in Prison Overdoses
ERIE, Pa. - Inmate Nathan Howard is found guilty on all charges in the drug overdoses of four prisoners, including one count of drug delivery resulting in death and four charges of contraband.
The jury announced its verdict around 11:30 a.m. Thursday. They received the case about 3:20 p.m. Wednesday but later left for the day.
Prosecutors said Howard, 49, smuggled heroin and fentanyl into the Erie County Prison April 27th, 2014. This led to three inmate overdoses and one death, according to investigators. This happened the day after police arrested Howard in an undercover drug operation at the El Patio Motel.
Erie Police Lt. Mike Nolan told the jury officers seized 9 grams of a brown or tan powder that tested to be a mix of heroin and fentanyl April 26th - the night Howard was arrested in a room at the El Patio.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Eric Vey testified that inmate Steven Burkhart died with 21 nanograms of fentanyl and 14 nanograms of heroin in this system. The fentanyl alone is nearly three times the average lethal dose.
Defense attorney Gene Placidi presented only one witness - a medical expert from Maryland. The expert testified in court Tuesday to raise questions about whether heart issues or something else may have caused Burkhart's death.
In cross examination and closing arguments, Placidi chipped away at the prosecution's case. He said a county open house at the prison may have been a source of the contraband, not Howard.
In his closing argument, district attorney Jack Daneri told the jury three people overdosed on drugs after the defendant was admitted into jail. It was the same substance investigators found on Howard the day before, Daneri said.