Warning: The following story contains details about drug use.
Kale Martin Taylor, 19, of Friday Harbor, has been sentenced to 34 months with eight months credit for time served for his role in the overdose of a San Juan teen in the summer of 2022. The ruling was far below the sentence recommended by the prosecutor’s office.
Taylor was charged with controlled substance homicide, which is a class b felony, in San Juan County Superior Court in January 2023. Taylor was 17 at the time of the alleged crime and turned 18 six weeks later. He was charged as an adult.
Taylor originally pleaded not guilty. Public defender Alex Frix filed a notice of disqualification against San Juan County Judge Kathryn Loring. No reason was given. Under RCW 4.12.050, such notice may be filed by any party, for no more than one judge in any matter, if no discretionary ruling has happened.
Island County Superior Court appointed a new judge, Robert E Olson. Hearings took place in San Juan County with the judge appearing electronically. A jury trial was scheduled for Aug. 28 but Taylor changed his plea to guilty in July.
“If Kale had been charged in juvenile court his sentence would have been 15-36 weeks,” Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Teresa Barnett told the Journal. “I did not charge it in juvenile court as the investigation was not complete until several months after the victim died. Kale turned 18 less than two months after the victim died. Once he turned 18, there was no option except adult court.”
Taylor’s sentencing hearing was held on Nov. 21. He will serve his time in a juvenile rehabilitation facility. He was also ordered to pay $4,380 to the victim’s family to help cover funeral costs.
The restitution amount ordered was $11,000 to pay for the victim’s burial costs. The Washington State Crime Victim Compensation Program paid more than $6,000 to the family, leaving Taylor’s contribution at $4380.
The standard sentencing range for controlled substance homicide is 51 to 68 months. In her recommendation to the court, Barnett asked Judge Olson to impose a sentence of 51 months, asserting it was “not excessive” for a crime that resulted in the loss of life. According to court documents, in an interview with law enforcement, the defendant acknowledged that he and his friend knew the potency of fentanyl and took measures to not overdose.
“The State recommends the court impose a low-end standard range sentence of 51 months to be followed by 12 months of community custody with standard conditions for substance abuse disorder. …. The toxicology and autopsy showed that the fentanyl the defendant brought his friend did in fact cause his death. The investigation did not reveal any ill intent by the defendant to hurt his friend and none is alleged. While there is no doubt he did not want his friend to die, the defendant knew that fentanyl could be lethal.”
Barnett also wrote: The State agrees the court should consider his youthfulness. The court should also consider his criminal history and the standard range sentence that the legislature has established for this crime.”
In the wake of the sentencing, San Juan County Sheriff Eric Peter released a letter to the community, stating: “My extreme frustration and disappointment with our Judicial system is greater than it’s ever been, especially here in Washington State.”
Barnett told the Journal: “While the Court may not always follow our recommendations, we respect the decisions of the Court and the Court’s independent role in determining sentences.”
Details of the case
On Aug. 17, 2022 Detective Lukas Peter responded to an apparent overdose after a male was found dead in his bed. In searching his room, Peter found a wallet with a small piece of rolled-up aluminum foil containing a light blue fragment of a pill. It was identified as counterfeit oxycodone referred to as “M30s” or “Blues,” which are known to contain fentanyl. The foil had black burn residue on it. Opiate users will sometimes burn drugs on foil and then inhale the fumes.
After an autopsy, the victim’s cause of death was determined to be acute fentanyl intoxication, and the manner of death an accident.
Members of the victim’s family reported that Taylor visited their home in the evening on Aug. 16. Detectives found Snapchat messages between Taylor and the victim that indicated Taylor was coming over that night to sell the victim drugs around 7 p.m. A family member checked on the victim between 8 and 10 p.m. and presumed him to be sleeping. Detectives believe he was likely already deceased. The following morning, after being unable to wake him, his mother immediately called 911.
During a police interview, Taylor denied introducing the victim to fentanyl or selling him drugs. He did admit the two worked together, previously consumed drugs together and that the victim’s “drug of choice” was fentanyl in the form of a blue pill marked “M30.” Taylor said the victim typically consumed the pill by placing it on foil and heating it with a lighter. Taylor stated he came to his friend’s house that evening to discuss a ride to work and bring him a small square of foil.
On Aug. 17, Taylor initiated entering a substance treatment program through Compass Health. He successfully completed it in December. At the time of Taylor’s arrest, he was living in a juvenile treatment facility in Washington state, earning his GED, working on a farm and learning life skills. The conditions of his release from the custody of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office state he will return to that facility, not leave Washington state and wear a GPS device.
Taylor’s juvenile criminal history includes malicious mischief in the third degree and possession of marijuana in San Juan County; criminal trespassing, malicious mischief in the third degree and burglary in the second degree in Snohomish County; and taking a vehicle without permission in Island County.
Letter from the sheriff
Sheriff Peter released the following letter on Nov. 22.
As a San Juan County resident, as an advocate for public safety, and as your Sheriff, it is with a heavy heart and genuine frustration with our judicial system that I am addressing everyone with an update on the sentencing that took place on Nov. 21 in a Controlled Substance Homicide case. The process has been ongoing for the past 15 months and involves the tragic death of a youth in our community.
The defendant in this case pleaded guilty, and the sentencing range in Washington State for this offense is 51-68 months. By law the Judge must consider mitigating factors and whether the defendant was a minor at the time of the offense. The Judge presiding over this case made the decision to go outside of the guidelines and imposed a sentence of only 34 months with eight months credit for time served, and one year of community custody after being released.
Because our state laws designate this offense as a “non-violent” offense and persons convicted and remanded to the custody of the Department of Corrections are eligible for “good time,” there is a possibility the defendant will receive a reduction of up to one-third of their sentence. With 26 months left to serve and the possibility of getting approximately eight months off of this sentence, the defendant could end up serving less than two years for the death of another young person in our community. This defendant not only knowingly provided the Fentanyl that resulted in the tragic death of the young victim but is also documented as refusing to provide any information as to the identity of the person from whom he received the Fentanyl, so the further distribution of this poison in our community could be stopped.
A young person, with a whole life ahead of them, lost their life as a result of being given a fatal dose of Fentanyl by the defendant. A family has lost their child and a sibling. This family, as well as too many other families, have lost their loved ones, and while there is nothing that can bring their loved ones back, our judicial system should be doing more to hold the convicted persons accountable, provide justice to the victims and their families, and prevent more deaths in our communities. This sentence is an insult to the victim, to their family, and to our entire community.
I have been in Law Enforcement for 28 ½ years and my extreme frustration and disappointment with our Judicial system is greater than it’s ever been, especially here in Washington State. I never thought I would live in a world where the rights of the persons convicted of a crime seem to matter more than the rights of the victims and the law-abiding residents of San Juan County.
This is not about what side you are on, liberal or conservative, or law enforcement or non-law enforcement. This is about saving lives, holding people accountable, and giving victims and their families the respect and attention they deserve. I am the first to admit that nobody and no organization is perfect, including law enforcement; however, regardless of how well intended some of the changes in the law may be, more and more people are being victims of crimes and more and more people are dying. It’s worth noting that according to DOC’s own numbers (https://doc.wa.gov/information/data/analytics.htm) the DOC average daily population decreased by over 22% (Oct 2019- 16,650 – Oct 2023- 12,902) while the population in our state has increased significantly. The 2022 Crime in Washington Report shows that crime in Washington increased across the board and the number of commissioned officers statewide decreased. Washington again is ranked 51st out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the number of officers per thousand residents.
These changes in our laws and sentencing guidelines are having negative and tragic outcomes on the victims and law-abiding citizens in our communities. I encourage you to communicate your concerns and your opinions with our elected policymakers, and I pledge to work with you to make the changes we need. Our community deserves better.