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Louisiana court again upholds life sentence in drug death

July 8, 2021 GMT

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana appeals court has again upheld a man’s murder conviction and life sentence for the heroin overdose of his girlfriend.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal refused Tuesday to grant a new trial for Jarret McCasland or allow him a hearing on his claim that his girlfriend, Flavia “Cathy” Cardenas, died from an accidental overdose in Baton Rouge in 2013.

McCasland, 32, was prosecuted under a Louisiana law that allows authorities to charge someone with murder for distributing or dispensing an illegal drug that directly causes a death. The statute doesn’t require prosecutors to prove that the accused intended to kill the overdose victim.

Attorneys for McCasland argued in an April appeal that his 19-year-old girlfriend died of an accidental overdose at her mother’s home after she “willingly bought drugs, on her own from a third-party, and willingly and knowingly ingested those drugs,” The Advocate reported.

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“All too often Louisiana courts refuse to clean up their own mess, like this, and make innocent people like Jarret sit in jail for years until a federal court actually looks at the unfairness and provides justice,” said Jim Boren, one of McCasland’s attorneys.

The 1st Circuit court rejected McCasland’s first appeal in 2017. The Louisiana Supreme Court declined to review the case in 2018 and 2019 because his lawyers filed their appeals too late.

“His requests have been heard by other courts, all of which have denied relief,” said East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, whose office prosecuted McCasland.

Moore said the 1st Circuit’s denial of McCasland’s latest appeal was “completely appropriate.”

McCasland’s trial attorney, Rodney Messina, argued to the trial jury in 2015 that Cardenas purchased the heroin and injected herself with a fatal dose. But a friend of Cardenas testified she saw McCasland inject Cardenas with heroin and cocaine earlier that evening.

McCasland didn’t testify at his trial. But he previously told sheriff’s detectives he injected Cardenas with cocaine the evening before she died but had not injected her with heroin. Medical examiners determined Cardenas died with numerous drugs in her system.