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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When the fog had lifted after my son’s heroin overdose death, I often drove to the house in the South Valley where his dealer lived.
I used to park across from the house and sit there, hoping, fearing I would see the dealer emerge. Once, I chased after a shadowy figure who put something in his pocket and pedaled away on a bike.
Only after he turned to glare at me did I realize he was a kid, maybe 11 or 12.
I lost him.
All I knew about the dealer was that she went by the name Sam and that she had
corresponded with my son in dozens of cellphone texts about what she had to sell and what he wanted to buy.
After he died, his phone was handed down to his younger brother, who cleared the texts, erasing what little evidence there was connecting Sam to that last, lethal dose.
My vigil at the house, I think, was my way of making amends for not saving that evidence. I must have thought that somehow I would witness something to help nail her for the evil she sold to sick young men.
Nothing came of it. To this day, I regret that I was unable to get Sam and dealers like her off the streets.
But this week, one of those dealers was taken off the street forever. It took eight years, but Raymond Moya, 36, was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for distribution of heroin resulting in death in the 2011 fatal overdose of La Cueva High School student Cameron Weiss, 18. It’s believed to be the first time a drug trafficker in New Mexico has been convicted of the crime and given such a stiff sentence.
Weiss’ mother hopes it won’t be the last time.
“I think this sets a precedence for other prosecutors to take a chance at trying cases like this,” said Jennifer Weiss-Burke, who after her son’s death became a
champion against the opioid crisis and the founder of Healing Addiction in Our Community and Serenity Mesa Youth Recovery Center. “It’s very difficult to prove that the drugs sold by a particular person are the drugs that actually ended up causing another person to overdose, but I think the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Agency did an incredible job with the details of this case, collecting evidence and proving that Raymond Moya was indeed the dealer who sold the heroin that caused Cameron’s overdose. I think other prosecuting agencies can use this case as a guide to determine what evidence they need and how to proceed so they might have the same success.”
One of the few similar cases I could track down began April 29, 2015, when a person identified in court records as DJJ died of a heroin overdose. Rosendo Flores Angulo, a “midlevel” drug dealer in Albuquerque, and co-defendant Curtis Hutchinson of Edgewood were indicted on numerous federal drug trafficking charges, including distribution of heroin resulting in death. Both men later agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin resulting in death.
In his plea, Hutchinson admitted that he regularly sold heroin supplied by Angulo to finance his own addiction and that he had sold $20 of heroin – about 0.25 of a gram – to DJJ, which killed him.
In 2017, Angulo was sentenced 17½ years in prison; Hutchinson’s case file contains no final sentencing information.
Moya, however, had not agreed to plead guilty, rolling the dice and hoping for a better outcome with a trial.
Moya’s attorney, Jerry Daniel Herrera, had argued that the timeline and toxicology of Weiss’ death called into question whether the heroin prosecutors
were connecting to his client was the cause of Weiss’ death and that others in Weiss’ circle were more responsible for his death – none who received as severe a penalty as Moya’s, some who had received immunity for their testimony.
It took jurors minutes last May to convict Moya anyway.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera sealed Moya’s fate, noting that life imprisonment was the only penalty she could impose under federal law because of Moya’s previous convictions for serious drug or violent felony offenses.
According to his sentencing memorandum, Moya was a career criminal who made a good living in a bad drug trade, despite growing up with a father and sister addicted to heroin, the death of his girlfriend from a drug overdose and the deaths of at least five friends to the drugs and violence that enmeshed his world.
The memorandum also says that he used college financial aid to buy drugs and rejected court-imposed drug rehabilitation. His long criminal history includes trafficking, striking a woman with a handgun, shooting from a vehicle and stomping repeatedly on the head of an inmate in a gang-related attack at the Torrance County Detention Center.
Weiss, on the other hand, was a promising athlete who became addicted to opiates after being prescribed painkillers for injuries. Despite several stays in rehab, the addiction proved stronger.
Text messages linking Weiss to Moya, the recollection of friends who could detail his actions during the last week of his life and the autopsy report all helped form the case against Moya.
Weiss-Burke said she hopes Moya’s fate sends a message, a warning, a promise.
“The more we can hold drug dealers and traffickers accountable, the fewer people will be willing to sell and traffic drugs,” she said. “It’s like a game to them. Drug dealers have never been held accountable for the deaths they cause – until now.”
For those of us who have lost a loved one to opioids, we share in this victory.
I hope Sam is listening.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.