Brattleboro man pleads not guilty in drug-death case
BRATTLEBORO -- Eight years ago, Chris Akey stood in a Brattleboro courtroom and tearfully apologized for supplying the drugs that caused his girlfriend's death.
On Thursday, Akey found himself back in court, this time charged with selling heroin to a woman who was discovered lifeless in a West Brattleboro apartment soon after.
The 30-year-old Brattleboro resident pleaded not guilty in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division to all charges including manslaughter and selling drugs with death resulting. The latter is a relatively rare charge due to the complex nature of drug sales and abuse.
In general, "it is often difficult to pinpoint the cause of death and how the supply chain works," said Steven Brown, Windham County deputy state's attorney.
But authorities believe that, in this case, they've directly tied Akey to the Sept. 14 death of 47-year-old Lisa Johnson in the Western Avenue apartment of her boyfriend, James Riccard.
In a court affidavit, Brattleboro police Sgt. Mark Carignan wrote that Riccard admitted to arranging to sell prescription drugs to a man he knew only as Chris.
When Chris appeared at the West Brattleboro apartment on Sept. 13, he also was carrying heroin, police said.
"Riccard told me that he recalled Johnson recently making reference to trying heroin and suggested they try it now," Carignan wrote, adding that Riccard then traded 15 Dilaudid pills for two bags of heroin.
He and Johnson snorted the heroin, and Johnson "nodded out," Carignan wrote.
Johnson woke up once "and commented about enjoying the high" before passing out again, the affidavit says. Later, Riccard awoke, found that Johnson was not breathing and called 911.
Police say they found two empty heroin bags in a trash can in the apartment. Both "were stamped with a blue cartoon-like character and the words 'kicking ass,'" Carignan wrote.
That phrase again came up the next day as police arranged a covert purchase of heroin: Riccard agreed to buy the drugs from "Chris," and the deal happened under police supervision in the Preston parking lot on Flat Street, authorities said.
The seller was Akey, police said, and the four bags he sold "all bore the same blue cartoon-like karate character and the words 'kicking ass.'"
During interrogation after his arrest, Akey allegedly acknowledged trading heroin for pills two nights before at Riccard's apartment.
Asked whether Riccard and Johnson had seemed to be already intoxicated at the time of that transaction, Akey told police that "they seemed all right," the affidavit said.
Akey claimed that he had stolen the heroin from another dealer, police said.
He also "explained to me a traumatic event in his life involving the death of his girlfriend," Carignan wrote.
That was a reference to the death, on Dec. 18, 2002, of 16-year-old Heather Allamby in Akey's Bellows Falls residence. The two had been celebrating Allamby's birthday the previous day, and Akey had brought methadone.
Allamby was found dead of a methadone overdose the next morning, and Akey was charged with manslaughter.
He pleaded guilty on July 22, 2004 during a court proceeding described as "intensely emotional" at the time. Akey's attorney said he "still had intense feelings for his former girlfriend and had fallen into a spiral of depression after her death."
But after mental-health treatment, Akey had "turned himself around" and had enrolled in school, his attorney said.
Akey was sentenced to serve two and a half years to 13 years in prison. He had been released from prison, and his parole in that case had ended earlier this year.
Akey now is being held pending $50,000 bail in connection with Johnson's death. In addition to manslaughter and selling drugs with death resulting, he also is charged with selling heroin and drug possession.
Brown said the bail is necessary given Akey's "history of failing to appear" for court along with his lengthy criminal record. Akey's time under some sort of court oversight extends back to Aug. 20, 1999.
"Since that time, he's been under continuous supervision with the exception of about a five-month period," Brown said.
Judge John Wesley set a scheduling conference in the case for next month.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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