MURRIETA (CNS) – A man who sold a deadly dose of fentanyl to a 26-year- old Lake Elsinore resident pleaded guilty Friday to voluntary manslaughter, setting the stage for his sentencing in July.
Everardo Martinez Rodriguez, 31, of Lake Elsinore admitted the manslaughter count, along with sentence-enhancing allegations of targeting a vulnerable victim and taking advantage of a position of trust, under a plea agreement with the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
In exchange for his admissions, prosecutors agreed to drop a second- degree murder charge against Rodriguez.
The plea deal was announced just as the defendant’s preliminary hearing was slated to get underway at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta. Superior Court Judge John Monterosso scheduled a sentencing hearing for July 14 and indicated a likely term of imprisonment of 11 years for Rodriguez.
He remains out of custody on a $1 million bond.
The defendant was arrested last year following a sheriff’s investigation into the death of Gavin Battle.
According to Sgt. Ryan Marcuse, on Jan. 5, 2021, deputies and paramedics were called to the victim’s residence in the 29000 block of Central Avenue, near Conrad Avenue, to investigate reports of a possible drug-related cardiac arrest.
Battle was found dead at the location, Marcuse said, adding that an autopsy revealed “fentanyl poisoning” as the cause of death, prompting an investigation that ultimately pointed to Rodriguez as the dealer who supplied an undisclosed quantity of the synthetic opioid.
An arrest warrant was obtained and served by deputies on March 4, 2022, at the defendant’s home on Limited Avenue, where he was taken into custody without a struggle.
Rodriguez has a misdemeanor vandalism conviction from 2012, but no felony convictions, according to court records.
Since February 2021, roughly two dozen people countywide have been charged in connection with fentanyl poisonings.
According to public safety officials, almost 500 people in Riverside County died from fentanyl poisoning in 2022. That compares to just under 400 in 2021, a 200-fold increase from 2016, when only two such fatalities were documented.
Fentanyl is manufactured in overseas labs, principally in China, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which says it’s smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border by cartels. The drug is 80-100 times more potent than morphine and can be mixed into any number of street narcotics and prescription drugs, without a user knowing what he or she is consuming. Ingestion of only two milligrams can be fatal.
Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 and 45 years old, statistics show.
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