Janice Matthews’ son Austin Sternberg died on Jan. 27, 2016, after buying a bag of fentanyl-laced heroin in Kensington, in a year the epidemic gave Philly the grim distinction of having the highest per capita opioid overdose rate of any large city in the nation.
Unlike many who have lost loved ones to the opioid crisis, Matthews saw the dealer who sold the fentanyl-laced heroin that killed her son, Antonio Moreno, convicted and sentenced by Judge Rayford Means to between 16 1/2 and 30 years in consecutive sentences for charges of possession with intent to distribute along with violations of probation for previous arrests. (The sentence was upheld during a motion for reconsideration hearing
But Matthews disagreed with President Trump’s proposal to potentially sentence some drug dealers to the death penalty.
Metro: How do you feel about sentencing for drug dealers, like in your son’s case?
Janice Matthews: They need to do more. These guys can just go in, and they’re out. He’s responsible for Austin’s death — to me, I believe that should be manslaughter charges. Let the guy walk out of there in 16 1/2 years, but let it be manslaughter charges. He did what he did. Losing my son is a daily struggle.
M: What do you think about the president’s proposal to give drug dealers the death penalty?
JM: That’s a tough one. I don’t want to say just kill him, just bump him off. That’s a little far. It’s hard, and he has kids and children. But you did what you did, and hopefully when you come out, you’ll be a different person — you won’t go down that road again.
M: What do you think about the death penalty’s effectiveness?
JM: They just sit behind bars on death row, or they get off on some small thing. They don’t do it. Am I really angry with this young man? I am, because he cost me lots of heartache, lots and lots of pain I live with all the time. But you need to learn your lesson, and hopefully get something together at Graterford, as far as education or work programs — it’s imperative. Do you know how many people they’d arrest if they could catch everyone who ever sold fentanyl right now?
Interview condensed for clarity.