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

Jarret J. McCasland

A 27-year-old Denham Springs man was sentenced to life in prison Friday for his role in the drug overdose death of his girlfriend after a judge rejected the defense argument that such severe punishment — allowed by a rarely used law created to combat crack cocaine — doesn’t fit the crime.

Jarret McCasland was convicted unanimously by an East Baton Rouge Parish jury in November under a section of Louisiana’s second-degree murder statute that allows police to arrest someone on that charge if distribution or dispensing of an illegal drug is the direct cause of the death.

Flavia “Cathy” Cardenas, 19, died in Baton Rouge on July 26, 2013. She had numerous drugs in her system at the time of her death.

McCasland’s lead attorney, Rodney Messina, said outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse that a notice of appeal already has been filed but noted that Louisiana appellate courts overturn less than 5 percent of convictions.

Still, Messina encouraged the Legislature to take another look at the murder statute under which McCasland was prosecuted.

“This was two consenting adults using drugs,” he said. “He’s not a murderer. Should he do some time? Yes. But life? No.”

McCasland’s father, Douglas McCasland, called what happened to his son “a sad day for the Louisiana judicial system.”

“We have witnessed the manipulation of the (East Baton Rouge Parish) District Attorney’s Office and the judicial system,” he said. “This is wrong. Everybody knows it’s wrong.”

Messina alleged it was Cardenas who bought the heroin and injected herself.

“He obviously got mixed up in the wrong crowd, and he’s paying the price,” McCasland’s father added.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III, who did not attend the sentencing, said afterward that Jarret McCasland has “a history of dealing multiple substances in many parishes.”

“He continues to blame everyone but himself. He has no remorse,” Moore said. “It is a shame that he and his family seek to blame everyone for the consequences of his lengthy history of drug dealing, which resulted in the death of another.”

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Moore said McCasland’s text messages before and after Cardenas’ death “clearly show that he is a heroin dealer proud of the weight and strength of his deadly product, while having absolutely no remorse for the victim.”

At McCasland’s trial, the jury was shown a text message sent from his phone two weeks after Cardenas died that stated, “This is the best h could pos get lol unless it would be dangerous deadly.” Authorities testified “h” stands for heroin.

McCasland accepted the opportunity to speak at the Friday sentencing and did not hold back when state District Judge Don Johnson gave him an opportunity to speak before sentencing him.

“I am an innocent person. Y’all had to lie and scheme to get a conviction,” said McCasland, who wore an orange East Baton Rouge Parish Prison jumpsuit.

“I’ll be home soon,” he added while turning toward his family in the courtroom.

When McCasland finished speaking, Johnson — who presided over McCasland’s trial — remarked, “I don’t know that you’re innocent.”

Cardenas’ mother was not at Friday’s sentencing because of a work conflict, but prosecutor Will Morris told Johnson that Nancy Landa believes the November verdict was just and, because of McCasland’s lack of remorse, she is fine with the life sentence as well.

The judge on Thursday rejected McCasland’s request to reduce his conviction to negligent homicide or order a new trial.

“This case was fully litigated, and all facts were presented to a jury of his peers,” Moore said Friday. “All of his rights were fully protected. He was well represented.”

McCasland told police Cardenas was his fiancée. He also told them he injected her with cocaine, but not heroin, the night before she died.

Thirteen months before she died, Cardenas — then 17 — was taken to the hospital for a drug overdose, her mother testified last fall.