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Eric Kay’s defense argues fentanyl was not sole cause of Tyler Skaggs’ death

Angels' Tyler Skaggs during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019.
Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs leaves the field during a pitching change in the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 18, 2019, in Toronto.
(Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images)
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Eric Kay’s defense Thursday attempted to discredit the government’s contention that Tyler Skaggs’ ingestion of fentanyl — and nothing else found in his system — was the reason he choked on his vomit and died in a suburban Dallas hotel room in July 2019.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Reagan Wynn asked Dr. Marc Krouse, formerly a Tarrant County medical examiner who conducted Skaggs’ autopsy report, if he could say Skaggs would be alive if he didn’t take fentanyl. Krouse said there is a “greater probability” Skaggs, a 27-year-old Angels pitcher, wouldn’t have died based on the evidence, but “no scientist” could be 100% sure.

According to the autopsy report, which ruled the death as accidental, Skaggs, had fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol in his system when he was found dead in Room 469 of the Hilton Dallas/Southlake Town Square on July 1, 2019, hours before the Angels were scheduled to begin a series against the Texas Rangers.

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Krouse was fired last March after an audit discovered he committed significant mistakes on other autopsies — a development Wynn resurfaced to conclude the cross-examination — but he has not been accused of errors while examining Skaggs.

Debbie Hetman testified that her son Tyler Skaggs said he had a problem with Percocet six years before his death. She said Skaggs quit the drug “cold turkey.”

Feb. 9, 2022

Kay, a former Angels communications director, was charged with two felony counts — providing Skaggs counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl that led to his death and distributing fentanyl and oxycodone since at least 2017. Kay, 47, has pleaded not guilty.

Fentanyl is a lethal synthetic drug that has inflamed the opioid epidemic in the United States in recent years. The drug, estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, was tied to 64% of drug overdose deaths in the country between May 2020 and April 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kay would face a 20-year minimum sentence if convicted of supplying Skaggs with the drugs that led to his death. The prosecution must convince the jury that not only did Kay provide Skaggs the fatal drugs, but that he gave them to Skaggs in Texas and not in California. The defense conceded Kay was an addict and consumed drugs with the pitcher, but the attorneys say there is no proof Kay gave Skaggs the drugs in Texas.

Federal prosecutors don’t, however, have to prove Kay knew the drugs he was providing were laced with fentanyl.

“If you distribute any controlled substance — and oxy without a prescription is a controlled substance — you don’t have to know what the actual substance is,” Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor with no ties to the case, said Thursday. “So if I’m dealing oxy and it’s actually fentanyl, or it’s a combination of both, it doesn’t matter as long as I know I’m distributing a controlled substance.”

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Skaggs’ phone — the data extracted on it, its chain of custody, and whether messages were deleted — also took center stage during the trial Thursday.

Southlake Police Department Cpl. Delaney Green, a detective at the time of Skaggs’ death, testified that Kay initially didn’t tell investigators that he saw Skaggs the night he died — a point Wynn conceded during his opening statement Tuesday. Wynn called it “the stupidest thing [Kay] did.” He said Kay lied because he wanted to hide his secret life as a drug addict.

Green said she learned that Kay saw Skaggs only after Adam Chodzko, another Angels communications employee, told the police. Green said Kay then became a person of interest. Text messages between Skaggs and Kay found in Skaggs’ phone and presented Thursday indicated Skaggs invited Kay to his room and Kay agreed to go on the night of June 30.

Angels communications director Eric Kay’s defense argued pitcher Tyler Skaggs got drugs from other sources and helped Kay become an addict.

Feb. 8, 2022

The suggestion of messages being deleted from Skaggs’ phone was first raised Wednesday when Michael Molfetta, Kay’s other defense attorney, asked Skaggs’ mother, Debbie Hetman, if she knew that her stepson, Garet Ramos, had deleted text messages from the phone. It was the first such public accusation.

Hetman testified that she and her family, including Skaggs’ wife, Carli, went to the Southlake Police Department after Skaggs’ death to retrieve his belongings. While there, she said, the police asked if they could help unlock the phone. Hetman said she was able to guess the passcode. She said that Ramos then took the phone to change the passcode, but she said she wasn’t aware of Ramos deleting texts.

Green’s testimony corroborated that Hetman and Ramos handled the phone. She said that another officer in the room stood directly behind the family observing while they were in possession of the phone. Green said the family left without the phone, but without giving investigators consent to use it as evidence. The family eventually consented, allowing Green to search the phone.

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