He was doing so well.
That’s what Jeffrey Allen’s family said after his death in April 2018. The 50-year-old Keene native was living with a friend on Brook Street. He had lots of work lined up for the summer, odd jobs like painting. He seemed to be drinking less.
“He was the happiest that he’s been in years,” his sister Laurie Madden, of Walpole, said.
Family and friends remember Allen as generous and sensitive. A nature lover, he collected crystals, spent time in the woods and could call owls. Somehow, he seemed to know everyone in Keene.
“Every time I’d walk around with him downtown, people would just be going, ‘Hey, Jeffrey,’ ‘Hey, Jeffrey,’ ” said Scott Davis of Winchester, a longtime friend.
He also had his troubles — alcohol, marijuana, depression, bouts of homelessness. His substance use started at an early age, resisting stints in rehab and stretches of sobriety. “He struggled forever,” as a lawyer would later say.
One thing family members never worried about was heroin.
Allen would grow furious about people he knew using heroin or fentanyl — the even deadlier drug that has largely supplanted the region’s heroin supply — family members said. He would talk about a friend, Warren Clark, who was addicted to heroin; Madden said Allen refused to talk to Clark whenever Clark was using.
“He had so many friends that died of fentanyl overdoses, or heroin overdoses,” Allen’s mother, Jacqueline Hull, of Littleton, said. “And he’d say, ‘At least you never have to worry about me doing that.’ ”
Early the evening of Friday, April 6, 2018, Madden got a call from the Sullivan County nursing home in Unity, where their father, Jack Allen, lived. Unable to reach Jeffrey, Madden and his other sister, Holly St. Pierre, of Bethlehem, drove up to Unity.
Their father had slumped over at dinner, but started talking when they showed up. “Pretty much the only thing he said was, ‘Where’s Jeffrey? How is Jeffrey?’ ” Madden said.
As they drove back into downtown Keene that night, St. Pierre’s phone rang. It was Keene police, Madden recalled.
The officer asked, “Are you Jeffrey Allen’s sister?”
‘Jeff, please call me’
Allen had been found earlier that evening, dead of an apparent overdose.
Toxicology testing would show he had both alcohol and fentanyl in his system. The medical examiner’s opinion was that he would not have died if not for the fentanyl, according to a court filing.
Six months after Allen died, a Cheshire County grand jury charged his friend Warren Clark with giving Allen the fentanyl that caused his death.
Clark, 53, of Keene, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Cheshire County Superior Court to a felony count of dispensing a controlled drug with death resulting. Under a plea agreement, he was sentenced to one to four years in N.H. State Prison.
Because Clark avoided a trial by pleading guilty, many details of the case did not emerge. But court documents, police records and interviews describe some of the circumstances around Allen’s death.
Clark attended Keene High School before working for years at a local cleaning company and at Cheshire Medical Center, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by his attorney, Richard Guerriero. Previous issues with depression and substance use grew worse after he was injured in a motorcycle crash in 2006, Guerriero wrote.
On April 6, 2018, Clark sent Allen a series of texts, according to a summary of the case filed in court by Assistant County Attorney Keith Clouatre.
“The messages read essentially that (Clark) was going to purchase a ‘dose’ that was believed to refer to controlled drugs, and inquired if Allen wanted some,” Clouatre wrote. “(Clark) offered to front Allen’s portion of the drug cost and they agreed to meet later in the day so Allen could receive the drugs.”
Since December, Allen had been living in a makeshift bedroom in his friend Peter Hartz’s basement. In need of a place to stay, Allen had talked about camping out in the woods, Hartz said recently. “I said, ‘No, I can’t let you do that, Jeff. You’re gonna have to come home with me.’ ”
On the afternoon of April 6, Hartz picked Allen up from a house-painting job in West Keene. Hartz said they stopped by Jake’s 5 Star Convenience Store on Roxbury Street, where Allen would typically buy beer and cigarettes. Allen said he had to meet someone, according to Hartz, who went off to do errands.
Clark met Allen nearby and gave him some of the drugs he’d bought, Clouatre wrote. Allen then apparently went home, used the drugs and died, according to Clouatre.
Guerriero’s memo says Clark bought “heroin” for himself and Clark. “The heroin, of course, contained fentanyl,” Guerriero wrote.
When Hartz returned home, he said, he saw Allen’s pack of cigarettes and lighter on a counter. He figured Allen was in the basement, having a beer.
Hartz went downstairs to do laundry. Allen was lying chest-down on his bed. “I changed the laundry, and I went over to him to wake him up,” Hartz said. “And there was no waking him up.”
First responders were called to the scene a little before 7 p.m., according to Keene police records. They tried to revive Allen, but couldn’t.
At 7:13, Clark texted Allen’s phone, Keene police Detective Joel Chidester wrote in an affidavit. “Jeff, please call me,” the text read, according to Chidester’s account. “I just weighed mine and its complete. So yours must be the 20. Call me please, even if u didnt get ur check. Call me.”
Clark would later tell police he bought an opioid drug from someone he knew as Kevin and gave a portion to Allen, Chidester wrote.
Hull said Clark called her the morning after her son’s death. “He said to me, ‘Hi. This is Warren. Do you know where Jeffrey is? I can’t find him.’ ”
Clark was charged under a New Hampshire law that holds someone “strictly liable” for a death resulting from drugs they provided.
New Hampshire is one of a number of states with such laws, according to the pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance, which counted 20 so-called drug-induced homicide laws as of late 2017.
Though it has been on New Hampshire’s books for decades, the death-resulting statute has been used more often in recent years. Several years ago, as fatal overdoses continued to rise, the N.H. Attorney General’s Office began prosecuting such cases and training other prosecutors and law-enforcement officers on how to investigate those deaths as potential crimes.
“There’s certain ways that evidence needs to be preserved, certain followup work that needs to get done in a short time period, if you’re going to build a successful death-resulting case,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Benjamin A. Agati said in an interview. “That wasn’t happening.”
Some defense lawyers and reformers argue drug-induced homicide laws impose harsh penalties on people who suffer from addiction themselves, while doing nothing to deter drug sales.
A conviction under New Hampshire’s death-resulting law can carry up to a life sentence. But with no mandatory minimum, judges — and the prosecutors who negotiate plea bargains — have wide discretion in sentencing.
“The statute covers an incredibly wide range of conduct,” Guerriero said Tuesday during Clark’s sentencing. “I mean, it covers the head of the cartel in Mexico who sends drugs here, and it covers the fellow addict who just happens to provide drugs, not even making a profit.”
Guerriero said sentences in the death-resulting cases he has researched have ranged from no time to more than 20 years in prison.
At his sentencing Tuesday, Clark moved slowly and spoke little. He had been out on bail as his case progressed over the past 10 months. Guerriero, his attorney, told the judge that his client has struggled with opioid addiction. “I do believe he may be suffering the effects of withdrawal,” Guerriero said.
Guerriero read a statement prepared by his client, in which Clark apologized to Allen’s family.
“I did not intend for Jeff to overdose or die,” Guerriero read. “We both struggled with addiction. If I had been able to recover from my addiction, this would not have happened, and Jeff might still be alive.”
Clouatre, the prosecutor, said he considered Clark’s lack of a significant criminal record and the nature of his transaction with Allen in agreeing to a sentence of one to four years.
“These cases happen across the state, and it’s unclear what to do,” he said.
In an interview the next day, Clouatre said a higher sentence would have been appropriate had Clark been dealing drugs, rather than buying them for a friend.
“If you’re selling something that is potentially deadly, then you should be held more accountable,” he said.
But even in cases like Clark’s with no profit motive, Clouatre said prison time is warranted, in part to deter others.
“You’re dealing with a poison here. At this point, everybody knows that heroin is not heroin,” he said. “Everybody knows it’s cut with something. Every user knows it, and they take the risks.”
If you expose another person to that risk, he said, “you have to pay the penalty for that when it results in a death.”
Guerriero, meanwhile, said he believes death-resulting” prosecutions are the wrong approach for cases like Clark’s, where one user splits drugs with another.
That could happen 24 times without someone overdosing, he said, “and on the 25th time, that person engages in exactly the same behavior, with exactly the same knowledge,” but someone dies. “So we saddle him with the responsibility that we didn’t saddle the other 24 people with.”
Guerriero said he’s lost four clients to overdoses in the past 2½ years. “Certainly, the families of the victims deserve all the sympathy in the world, and I understand their anger and their outrage,” he said.
But he argued that incarceration does nothing to address addiction, which is fundamentally a health problem. Separating someone from their family, causing them to lose their job and saddling them with a criminal record makes recovery harder, Guerriero said.
“It’s really just punishment, and it’s retribution, and it serves those goals,” he said. “But it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem that we still have once the retribution is over.”
‘They leave sometimes’
Jeffrey Allen left behind a mother, father, two sisters and a daughter, among other relatives and friends. (His father died a few months later.) About 200 people came to his funeral, according to his family. “He knew everybody from the wealthy down to the homeless,” Madden said.
“Whenever Jeffrey ever had any money to spare, he would give it away to people on the street,” St. Pierre, his other sister, said.
Those close to him say Allen loved the outdoors. He grew up a restless, active child on his parents’ strawberry farm in Keene, according to his family. As an adult, he would carve odd-shaped pieces of wood into walking sticks, his friend Davis said. He would go into mines and chip away at veins of crystal, leaving with little gems. His ability to produce a perfect owl call earned him the nickname “Owl Whisperer.” (Another nickname, “Grateful Jeff,” stemmed from his love of the Dead.)
Allen loved to camp, sometimes choosing to live in the woods even when he had a place to stay, Madden said. Family and friends recalled him setting up elaborate homesteads in the woods around Keene.
“His campsites were a thing to behold,” Hull said, adorned with stone walls and flowers. One near Park Avenue had three tents and a pool he created by damming a stream, she recalled.
Allen found a piece of nature in the middle of the city, too, a small park on the corner of Norway Avenue and Church Street where he liked to spend time.
On a recent afternoon, Peter Hartz walked to the park’s edge. “He cleared this all out and planted flowers,” Hartz said, gesturing to a now-overgrown patch a couple feet wide. Hostas, sunflowers and a red rose blossom poked out of the tangle of green.
Hartz said Allen could often be found here, enjoying his small hideaway or receiving visits from friends. “People really just liked hanging out with him,” he said. “He was very peaceful. And funny. He was funny, too.”
People left mementos there after Allen’s death. They remain today, hanging from branches and nestled among rocks: A wooden panel with two owls on a tree. A bell with little metal owls dangling from it. A grayish owl figurine with watchful yellow eyes.
Hartz said he’d known Allen for decades and got to know him better in the past five years. In his last months, Allen became a beloved member of Hartz’s household.
“In a lifetime, you only have so many friends,” said Hartz, 66. “And they leave sometimes. They leave for different reasons. Some of them die. And the older you get, the less time you have to make new friends, and that’s the point I’m at right now. Losing a friend like Jeff” — he paused to let out a cry of anguish — “was a real heartbreak to me. Because I don’t know if I’ll ever have another friend like him in my lifetime.”
Allen’s family has mementos, too. Jeffrey used to wear an owl-pendant necklace St. Pierre had given him. “He had it on himself all the time, and now that he died, I have it,” she said. “… I have his ashes in there. So I have them with me.”
Madden and her mother have necklaces made out of Herkimer diamond, a type of crystal. Allen had mined the pieces in New York.
Madden appeared in court Tuesday and addressed Clark directly.
“You had a hand in my brother’s death,” she said. “We miss him every day. … I know he had a part in his death, as well. But this drug thing has gotta stop, and I’m hoping that you can use this to hopefully keep your life going. Use it as a lesson.
“I don’t think you intentionally wanted that to happen to my brother,” she continued. “But I just want you to get on your feet — and don’t ever, ever, ever sell drugs to anybody again.”
In an interview the next day, at a nephew’s home in Keene, Madden reflected on the case. “I truly have not had any doubts in my mind since it happened that Warren was devastated by it,” she said.
She said she still doesn’t understand why or how her brother used fentanyl. Clark told police that he and Allen had been heroin users for several years, according to Detective Chidester’s affidavit. But Allen’s sisters, his mother and Hartz all said they were blindsided. They wondered if he turned to it to relieve his back pain. They guessed at whether it was a one-time thing or happened more often. They had seen no sign he used.
“I would like clarification on that,” Madden said. “And someday maybe I’ll get it. I don’t know.”
She keeps thinking about how happy her brother was that spring, and how he was taken away.
“One time can kill you,” she said. “One time. … Whether Jeffrey was using it more often or not. But it can be that one time.”