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Two homeless people won't face second-degree murder charges in the fentanyl overdose of a homeless man in Baton Rouge.

An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury declined late last week to indict Jared Lynn Lewis, 38, and Kristen L. Lessard, 32, in the June 10 death of Mark Plummer, 54.

Lewis and Lessard, described in court documents as homeless in the Siegen Lane area of Baton Rouge, were arrested in September. Plummer had lived at a homeless encampment near the Mall of Louisiana.

The second-degree murder charge that the grand jury considered accused the pair of unlawfully giving fentanyl to Plummer, who ingested or consumed the controlled dangerous substance.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate.

The proposed murder charge said the pair's alleged actions "directly caused the death of Mark Plummer." The grand jury, however, returned a no true bill, meaning the panel rejected the second-degree murder charge.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office concluded previously that Plummer died of an accidental fentanyl overdose.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Monday he reviewed all of the facts and reports and agrees with the grand jury's conclusion.

"Each case is different and each case is based and determined by the facts and law applicable to each individual case," he said.

The so-called drug-induced homicide statute, under which Lewis and Lessard would have been prosecuted if they had been indicted, was intended to crack down on dealers. Some family members of overdose victims wish prosecutors would charge people with murder more often. There have been fewer than 15 such arrests in the parish in the past decade.

Police say it's hard to meet the high standard of proof for a murder arrest in most drug cases; Moore has said the charge isn't always appropriate; and advocates say it deters people from reporting when they need help and treatment.

Fentanyl, a Schedule II prescription drug typically used to treat patients with severe or chronic pain, appears to be the drug of choice for many users who are overdosing, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said.

Plummer, 54, told The Advocate in the weeks before his death that he had been homeless for a little more than 10 years after an accident on an oil rig left him injured. He was the patriarch and founder of an encampment in a quiet patch of forest bordering what is now Havertys furniture store.

That encampment was one of two demolished in mid-May after most of its residents were moved into area hotels and motels by the Louisiana Housing Corporation for a 90-day stay with the potential for an extension, with permanent housing options to follow.

Bob Minor, who used to live at the camp with Plummer, said Plummer wasn't quite the same after his home was cleared away. In the weeks before his death he had taken to traveling back and forth between the motel and the former campsite to tend to his cats, which remained behind.

When Baton Rouge cleared out the two homeless encampments, they said the move was a precaution to fight the potential spread of the coronavirus. The encampments were on private properties near Siegen Lane and the Mall of Louisiana.

Opioid overdose deaths have risen dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. There were 201 fatal overdoses since the start of 2020 through Nov. 3, according to the East Baton Rouge Coroner's Office. By comparison, there were 126 overdose deaths in 2019.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.