A Keene man pleaded guilty Tuesday to obtaining and providing the fentanyl that caused the overdose death of city resident Jeffrey J. Allen last year.
Warren Clark, 53, admitted to a charge of dispensing a controlled drug with death resulting during a hearing in Cheshire County Superior Court. He was sentenced under a plea agreement to one to four years in N.H. State Prison.
Allen, a longtime Keene resident, died of an overdose at age 50 in April 2018.
“He loved everyone, especially his family,” his obituary says. “He loved to be in the woods calling owls, which gained him the name Owl Whisperer.” He could also be a “jokester.”
Family members said he struggled with alcoholism and homelessness, but had been living with a friend in Keene at the time of his death.
On the evening of April 6, 2018, that friend found Allen unresponsive in the basement, according to an affidavit written by Keene police Detective Joel Chidester.
In a later interview with police, Clark said he had bought some kind of opioid drug and given a portion to Allen the day of his death, according to the affidavit.
According to an offer of proof filed by Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Keith Clouatre, Clark texted Allen on April 6 to say he was buying a “dose.” He asked if Allen wanted any and offered to front him the money for it. They arranged to meet in front of a local convenience store, where Clark gave Allen the drugs, Clouatre wrote. Allen died later that day.
In October, a Cheshire County grand jury charged Clark with providing Allen the fentanyl that caused the fatal overdose.
Laura Madden of Walpole, Allen’s sister, addressed Clark in court Tuesday.
“I just want Warren to know that — you had a hand in my brother’s death. We miss him every day,” she said. “… I know he had a part in his death, as well. But this drug thing has gotta stop.”
She said she hopes the sentence is a chance for Clark to put his life together.
“I don’t think you intentionally wanted that to happen to my brother,” she said. “But I just want you to get on your feet — and don’t ever, ever, ever sell drugs to anybody again.”
Richard Guerriero, Clark’s attorney, said his client struggles with substance use issues. Guerriero read a statement on Clark’s behalf in which he apologized. “I didn’t intend for Jeff to overdose and die,” he read.
Under New Hampshire law, someone convicted of dispensing a controlled drug with death resulting can be sentenced to up to life in prison.
In practice, the sentences in death-resulting cases vary widely depending on the situation, lawyers and Judge David W. Ruoff said at Tuesday’s sentencing.
“It covers the head of the cartel in Mexico who sends drugs here, and it covers the fellow addict who also happens to just provide drugs,” Guerriero said in court. “… And in my research, the sentences range from, in one case in Rockingham, no time, all the way to decades.”
Prosecutions for death-resulting charges are relatively rare. Overdoses believed to have happened in Cheshire County caused 32 deaths in 2018, according to state data, but the county had only two indictments on death-resulting charges that year.
Clouatre said Clark’s sentence is appropriate given that Clark didn’t intend to cause Allen’s death or profit from a sale.
“It should still be a prison sentence, as whenever you hand over drugs,” it’s a risk, he said. “Here, it ended in Mr. Allen’s death.”
Those seeking recovery resources in Cheshire County can visit the The Doorway at 640 Marlboro Road in Keene (the Curran Building on Route 101) Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or seek support through the state’s 24/7 hotline by calling 211.
This article has been updated to include additional details about how Clark provided Allen with drugs and to correct a quote by Laura Madden.