Judge refuses to alter life sentence for Denham Springs man in girlfriend’s alleged heroin death _lowres

Jarret J. McCasland

The mandatory life prison term without parole that a Denham Springs man received in the alleged heroin overdose death of his girlfriend in 2013 does not violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment but instead prevents him from harming others, parish and state prosecutors contend.

Jarret McCasland, 27, was convicted of second-degree murder in November by a unanimous East Baton Rouge Parish jury. State District Judge Don Johnson sentenced him in February. His attorneys filed a motion the following month asking the judge to reconsider the punishment. A hearing is scheduled next week.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted McCasland, and the state Attorney General’s Office filed a written opposition Monday to the reconsideration request, urging Johnson to deny the motion.

McCasland was prosecuted under a seldom used provision of the state’s second-degree murder statute that allows for a murder prosecution when someone is killed and the suspect is accused of distributing or dispensing an illegal drug that directly causes the recipient’s death. Under the statutory provision, prosecutors do not have to prove a defendant had the specific intent to kill.

McCasland was the first person convicted in East Baton Rouge of second-degree murder under that provision.

McCasland’s lead attorney, Rodney Messina, claims in his motion that Louisiana is out of touch with the rest of the country, which prosecutors dispute. Messina says no other state in the nation requires a mandatory term of life in prison without probation, parole or suspension of sentence in cases such as McCasland’s without any regard to the circumstances of the case.

“Louisiana’s law is not so different from other states in the union (north and south, east and west), such that it would violate the Eighth Amendment,” Assistant District Attorneys Robert Savage and Will Morris and Assistant Attorney General Colin Clark argue in their opposition, referring to the U.S. constitutional amendment that bars cruel and unusual punishment.

“In any event, the Eighth Amendment does not allow a court to strike down a law simply because no other state has an equally serious punishment for a particular crime,” the prosecutors add.

Savage, Morris and Clark also take issue with Messina’s claim that the District Attorney’s Office abused its prosecutorial discretion in pursuing a second-degree murder charge in the case.

“He overtly sold heroin to someone else after he killed the victim with heroin,” the prosecutors allege. “Heroin is deadly, and (he) knew it. Despite that, Jarret McCasland ignored the risks and deliberately endangered others with potentially fatal doses of heroin. He even encouraged others to try it.”

Flavia “Cathy” Cardenas, 19, died July 26, 2013, in Baton Rouge with multiple drugs in her system, including cocaine and heroin. Prosecutors had to prove, among other things, that the heroin McCasland allegedly gave Cardenas was the direct cause of her death.

Testimony at McCasland’s trial indicated he sent Cardenas a text message the afternoon before she died asking, “U wanna get high with me?” One of Cardenas’ friends, Christina Garman, testified she saw McCasland inject his girlfriend with heroin and cocaine at Garman’s house the evening before she died.

McCasland told police he injected Cardenas with cocaine but not heroin.

Messina contends McCasland was guilty of negligent homicide at worst, which carries up to five years behind bars.

Cardenas was hospitalized in June 2012 at the age of 17 for a drug overdose, her mother testified at McCasland’s trial.

Three months before she died, Cardenas and McCasland were arrested together in Gonzales on drug charges.