Murder in La Jolla – Fentanyl Laced OxyContin
Joshua Breslow graduated from La Jolla High School in 1987. La Jolla is a small affluent coastal town that is the birthplace of actor Gregory Peck, and home to the late Theodore Geisel, aka, Dr. Seuss, Rachel Welch, Jonas Salk, Deepak Chopra, and, more recently, Doug Manchester, a real estate mogul, and former chairman of the board and editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune (to name a few accomplishments).
Josh had a passion for long distance running. He ran his first marathon, the Houston Marathon, when he was 12 years old. In 1994, he finished the Los Angeles Marathon in a personal best time of 2:25:24 as the fourth American overall in a packed international elite field in his effort to qualify for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. After his elite running career, Josh worked for a number of years at Roadrunner Sports in San Diego before starting his own successful marketing firm.
Josh currently resides in Housing Area 6C at the George Bailey Detention Facility located at 446 Alta Road in San Diego, inmate number 20942058A. George Bailey is the largest maximum security facility in San Diego County. But he won’t be there much longer. Josh is awaiting his transfer to state prison.
Doug Manchester’s daughter Sally also went to La Jolla High School. They were acquaintances. But as they both approached their 50s, Josh and Sally became very close. Sally struggled with opioid addiction after she had an injury years before. Her doctors would no longer prescribe her OxyContin. But Josh was able to get some on the “street.” They are called Blue 30s or Blues. He soon found there was a market for these pills in the affluent beach community where he grew up.
After Sally died, Josh was arrested. Sally died in her La Jolla home leaving her husband and two teenage children. Josh was a 52-year-old white male from La Jolla with no criminal record. But his problems were about to get worse.
On March 18, 2021, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office filed murder charges against Josh. The sentence they sought: 25 years to life.
What does “25 years to life” mean? 25 years to life can mean two things. If the sentence is 25 years to life without parole, Josh will die in prison unless he qualifies for compassionate release (compassionate release is a program that allows for the release of terminally ill prisoners if they can prove they will die within six months. However, the process takes so long, most applicants die while their applications are pending). If Josh is sentenced to 25 years to life with the possibility of parole, he can apply for parole after serving 25 years, when he is 77 years old.
But Josh had more problems. The District Attorney charged him with four separate violations of drug possession with intent to sell which each carry a maximum sentence of four years in prison. He was also charged with two violations of selling or transporting drugs which each carry a maximum sentence of five years in state prison, possession of simulants with an intent to sell (3 years), and possession of sedatives with an intent to sell (3 years), and criminal enhancements (2 years).
After months of negotiations, the District Attorney’s Office and my office were able to negotiate a plea deal. Josh was able to avoid a life sentence and most of the other drug charges by pleading to voluntary manslaughter and two drug possession charges. Despite the deal, the sentence still needed to be pronounced by Judge Rachel Cano.
Josh’s sentencing hearing was heartbreaking. How did two families that knew each other, that saw each other socially, that lived in a warm safe place, get drawn together in a downtown courtroom over the proper sentence for Josh for the one thing that can never be fixed: Sally’s life?
Proponents of the relatively new practice of charging those that sell drugs with murder argue that we are in a national fentanyl crisis. And desperate times call for desperate measures. They also argue that “murder” gets people’s attention and these charges will deter others from engaging is similar conduct which saves lives. Critics argue that the punishment does not fit the crime. For example, when a drunk driver pleads guilty to driving drunk, they acknowledge in writing that they can be charged with murder if they do it again. Those who sell fentanyl laced drugs get no warning. Critics also argue that over-charging these cases harkens back to the days of the war on drugs causing overincarceration.
At the sentencing hearing, Josh’s and Sally’s friends and families had an opportunity to address the court and each other. Josh issued a sincere and heart felt apology and took full responsibility for his actions (which surely fell short of the mark considering the loss of Sally). Sally’s family and friends made statements which conveyed the magnitude of their loss. And there is nothing worse than listening to a mother that has lost her child.
Until we, as a society, figure out the answer to this fentanyl crisis, we will continue to hear the pros and cons of charging people with murder for fentanyl related deaths. In December 2021, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (the “DEA”) announced that they seized enough fentanyl laced pills in 2021 alone to give every American a fatal dose. The DEA warned that criminal drug networks in Mexico are manufacturing the counterfeit pills with fentanyl sourced from China and shipping massive amounts into the United States. The counterfeit pills are made to look exactly like Oxyontin®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Adderall®, Xananx® and others.
How does America stop the massive saturation of our drug market with fentanyl laced drugs? Sally’s oldest daughter Molly, an emergency room nurse that sees addition on a daily basis, called for legislation at Josh’s sentencing to address the way the legal and health care systems treat addiction and mental illness. Certainly, a crackdown on social media platforms on which many fatal doses are sold is in order. And greater efforts to prevent the import of these drugs in the first place will reduce the massive supply.
If you would like to discuss a fentanyl related prosecution, please feel free to call me at (619) 878-1580 or email me at [email protected]. This phone number and email are 100% confidential. I am frequently in court. So you should feel comfortable sending an email or leaving a voice message knowing it will remain 100% confidential.