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COA overturns felony murder charge in overdose death

January 2, 2019

A man who provided drugs that ultimately resulted in a woman’s overdose death will not face a felony murder charge after the Indiana Court of Appeals found precedent did not stretch far enough to include his actions.

James Trimnell was charged with felony murder after Rachel Walmsley died from an overdose in July of 2017 of the drugs he had bought for Nathaniel Walmsley.

Nathaniel had texted Trimnell, saying he wanted to make a purchase. Later that afternoon, Trimnell arrived at Nathaniel’s home and delivered about a gram of what he believed was heroin, which he had purchased in Cincinnati. Trimnell then went home.

A few hours later, Nathaniel cooked the drug and injected Rachel. He later told police that he recalled seeing Rachel lying on the bathroom floor and that she seemed to be passed out, having a weak pulse and shallow breathing.

More than four hours later, Nathaniel and his son loaded Rachel in the car and took her to the hospital. She died there that evening and an autopsy the next day found the cause of death to be acute fentanyl and ethanol intoxication.

The Ripley Circuit Court denied Trimnell’s motion to dismiss the charge of felony murder. Then, at the request of both parties, the trial court certified its order for interlocutory appeal.

Before the Court of Appeals, Trimnell argued the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion to dismiss because the facts alleged in the information, if taken as true, did not establish that he committed felony murder.

The state countered Trimnell’s delivery of the drug to Nathaniel was the first step in the chain of events leading to Rachel’s death, and that the killing occurred during the felony even though it happened after he had left the house and was nowhere around.

Reviewing the precedent set in Duncan v. State, 8567 N.E.2d 955 (Ind. 2006), the Court of Appeals rejected the state’s contention and reversed the trial court in James Alvin Trimnell v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-987. The appellate panel found Trimnell did not “mediately or immediately” contribute to Rachel’s death.

 “We believe (the state’s argument) stretches the holding in Duncan too far,” Senior Judge Carr Darden wrote. “Although harmful consequences, including death, are not outside the range of predictable results from delivering controlled substances to another, Rachel’s death was caused by the combination of acute fentanyl and ethanol intoxication. There is no indication in the record that Trimnell knew how much of the drug would be injected by Nathaniel in Rachel’s arm, or what or how frequently they would be using the drug he had delivered and that Rachel had been acutely intoxicated by alcohol for a period of time prior to using the drug.”

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