Go above and beyond to help the police, then get slapped a murder charge? Do you think this will stand?
On March 2, Jaime Hymel of St. Charles Parish, outside New Orleans, woke up on a concrete floor after a near overdose from heroin, and was horrified to discover that her friend, Richard Keller Jr., hadn’t been so lucky. Keller, who had overdosed from the drug, was barely breathing and Hymel said that after trying to wake him to no avail, she called 911. Keller was declared dead at the scene. According to the New Orleans Advocate, Hymel, who was treated at a local hospital, agreed to act as an informant for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office so they could catch the dealer who sold them the deadly mixture of heroin and fentanyl.
As a result, Roderick “Lucky” Hackett, 40, was arrested and charged. On June 2, he agreed to plead guilty to an amended charge of attempted heroin distribution.
But on Monday, Hackett was rebooked on second-degree murder charges for Keller’s death. Also in handcuffs? Hymel, who was already charged with distribution of heroin, was rebooked for second-degree murder in Keller’s death, despite everything she did to help police nail Hackett. The charges for both Hackett and Hymel come after St. Charles Parish police received a copy of the coroner’s report, which said Keller died from a mixture of heroin, fentanyl and alcohol.
St. Charles Parish police department’s Greg Champagne was able to bring charges against both defendants thanks to an overdose murder statute in Louisiana’s criminal code that says people who sell or provide illegal drugs can be charged with murder after an overdose death. Both Hymel and Hackett are facing life in prison if convicted.
“People are dying from heroin overdoses, so we’ve got to take a stand,” Champagne said about the case, according to the New Orleans Advocate. “It’s second-degree murder, so we’re going to charge it.”
However, Hackett’s lawyers say the charges against him are both in violation of his plea agreement and a blatant case of double jeopardy, because he’s already been tried and convicted in relation to the crime.
“There was, and is, insufficient evidence to convict Mr. Hackett of second-degree murder, even if the state wasn’t barred from doing so,” said defense attorney Maria Chaisson. “In fact, there wasn’t that much evidence to justify the plea to attempted distribution, but Mr. Hackett did so to put an end to the matter.”
As for Hymel? In addition to her own near fatal overdose from Hackett’s heroin – “She was probably lucky she lived,” Champagne acknowledged – Hymel allegedly tried to save Keller’s life and called 911. Her role in acting as informant involved agreeing to “barter a deal for additional quantities of heroin,” and meeting Hackett in person at her home to do the the exchange. Police were waiting, but Hackett swallowed the bag of heroin he intended to sell to Hymel and took off running; police tackled him to the ground and put him in cuffs.
Critics say arrests like Hymel’s are an example of “cowboy policing” which actually dissuades drug addicts from calling 911 in the event someone overdoses.
“We have two overdose victims. One survives and one dies. The one that survives is then prosecuted for second-degree murder?” Logan Kinamore of the group No Overdose Baton Rouge said about the case. “It’s so punitive, and it’s so counter-productive, and it sends absolutely the wrong message to the entire community. It’s astounding.”
Champagne acknowledged that Hymel’s case is a little more complex, given that she was almost a victim herself, not to mention aided investigators. “The prosecutors can certainly take those things into consideration,” he said. “The courts can take all of those things into consideration.”
Hymel is being represented by public defender David Moyer.
So is this “Double Jeopardy?” Watch below for an explanation of the legal term: