A Star Valley woman who provided heroin to a man who died of an opiate overdose in 2017 will serve a year in county jail and a subsequent five years of probation.
Teton County District Court Judge Timothy Day sentenced Sarah Valley, 42, of Alpine, on Tuesday. Though he lauded her newfound sobriety and community involvement, he said he had to balance that against the need for justice and a deterrent against drug crimes.
“Someone would have to be living in a cave to not be reasonably informed of the opioid epidemic that has hit our nation and has not excluded Teton County,” he said. “This case combines the seriousness of that opiate use and abuse and addiction with the dramatic impact that that can have.”
The case arose from the death of Wesley Kiggins, a former Jackson resident who was visiting town when he suffered an overdose on Jan. 14, 2017. After a long investigation, police charged Valley with criminally negligent homicide and delivery of heroin.
In a plea bargain, prosecutors dropped the negligent homicide charge and Valley pleaded no contest to the felony delivery of heroin charge.
Valley’s attorney, Christopher Leigh, argued for probation without jail time. He noted that although the heroin Valley gave Kiggins may have played a role in his death, so did the actions of as many as six other people, either through their own actions or through their inaction (several people who were with Kiggins at a party on the night he died later told investigators they suspected he had taken heroin).
“I look at this as being akin to the spokes on a wheel,” Leigh said. “There’s just multiple moving parts and components.”
Most notably the police investigation led officers to a second drug dealer, Jacob Brown, who sold Kiggins morphine sulfate two days before his death. Brown was arraigned Oct. 8 in Teton County District Court on a felony charge of delivery of a schedule II narcotic. He entered a not guilty plea.
Because of the short time involved and because metabolized heroin appears in the bloodstream as morphine, Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Clark Allan said it’s hard to prove which drugs caused the overdose.
“I believe these drugs were both in close enough proximity that both these people are colored with the death of Mr. Kiggins,” Allan said.
Since January 2017, Valley said she has been sober, and her drug tests throughout that time concur. She has been receiving treatment and has held a steady job. She said she is “very remorseful. I think about this every day.”
“I will take probation extremely seriously, and I will never be in your courtroom again,” she told Day. “This whole situation has definitely changed my life and changed my outlook on drugs and that whole lifestyle.”
Day acknowledged that Valley has improved in the last three years, as attested in many character references submitted to the court by her friends and coworkers. She also did not have much of a criminal history before this incident.
Nevertheless, Day wondered aloud, “is this the kind of offense that someone gets to walk away from, or is this the kind of offense that someone should suffer serious consequences for? I think this is the latter.
“It’s just one of those really dramatic cases that show the real pernicious snare of addiction can result in a death noose for those involved in the drug trade,” Day said, “and those who help perpetuate it really help weave the rope that strangles an addict.”
The crime comes with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and Valley could still face three to six years in a prison chosen by the Wyoming Department of Corrections if she violates her probation. But Day urged her not to stray back to the world of drugs.
“I don’t expect you to like the sentence,” he said. “But I really hope that you don’t let that prevent you from saying ‘I’m still done with this.’”