Judge upholds sentence in fatal fentanyl overdose case

A Philadelphia judge pulled no punches during a sentence reconsideration hearing on Wednesday for a man convicted of selling a dose of fentanyl that killed a 39-year-old man last year.

“If you’re selling dope, you assume the responsibility,” Judge Rayford Means, of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, said during the hearing. “If you’re doing these things, you’re in the game.”

Earlier this year, Means sentenced convicted drug dealer Antonio Moreno, 27, of Kensington, to 16 ½ to 30 years in prison for selling the fentanyl-laced heroin that took the life of Austin Sternberg.

Sternberg died Jan. 27 of last year, after using what he believed was heroin. Though, according to Sternberg’s mother, Janice Matthews, the coroner didn’t find heroin in her son’s system, and instead found fentanyl and Benedryl.

“My son never had a chance,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

During Wednesday’s hearing, based on Moreno’s appeal for a lesser sentence, his aunt, Olga Moreno, spoke on behalf of her nephew, saying that his mother dropped him on her doorstep at the age of 3 because she had problems with drug addiction.

“She chose the street over him, and I raised him,” she told the court.

Moreno’s aunt motioned to the back of the room, where Moreno’s young children sat with their mother, in an effort to explain that the lengthy sentence would take the convicted drug dealer – who had several prior arrests, including a 2010 case in which he was arrested after a shootout in front of his Kensington home – away from his children.

In that conviction, Moreno was found with 246 bags of crack cocaine and 46 jars of PCP.

“We are losing our time with him, and they lost a son,” said Moreno’s aunt as she pointed to Sternberg’s mother, who was also in court. “It’s a no-win situation.”

In court, Moreno’s defense attorney argued that the deceased Sternberg should have considered the age-old axiom of “buyer beware” before purchasing illegal drugs.

However, Means countered that, even if Moreno didn’t know that he was selling fentanyl, he would need to be held accountable for the “unregulated goods” that ended Sternberg’s life.

“You assume that risk because it is unregulated,” explained Means. “You shouldn’t be selling unregulated goods.”

After the judge announced his decision not to reconsider Moreno’s sentencing, a member of Moreno’s family shouted, “What kind of justice is this?” as they were leaving the courtroom.

In response, Means had court officers ensure that Moreno’s family and members of Sternberg’s family were kept separated as they left the building.

After the verdict, Williams said she was glad the judge upheld his original decision.

“I’m relieved,” she said.

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