Prosecutor: An ‘avalanche’ of heroin reached Front Royal

Christopher Nesmith

HARRISONBURG – A heroin network in Front Royal that law enforcement officials blame for spawning more than 25 dealers and customers came into focus at a sentencing hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Wolthuis called for a 15-year prison sentence for the defendant, Christopher Grant Nesmith, 28.

Nesmith’s attorney, Andrea Harris of Harrisonburg, said her client deserved no more than a six-year sentence.

The hearing ended with Judge Michael F. Urbanski postponing a decision on Nesmith’s fate until an undetermined date. Urbanski said both attorneys had submitted sentencing memorandums to him only within the last day or two, and he needed more time to consider arguments made at the hearing.

Wolthuis described a drug conspiracy in which Nesmith participated from April 2014 to June 2014. Wolthuis said the defendant began obtaining heroin for his girlfriend Jennifer Smith and for his own use and sale to others. Nesmith’s heroin supplier was his aunt, Rosalind Allen, a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, Wolthuis said.

Wolthuis wrote in a sentencing memorandum: “This conspiracy resulted in hundreds of grams of heroin being sold and consumed in the Front Royal area. Nesmith’s crime not only led to an overdose but created an avalanche of heroin being brought into Front Royal. Intended or not, the consequences of Nesmith’s crime are hard to fully appreciate.”

The prosecution’s sentencing memorandum also blamed Nesmith for introducing two other individuals to his aunt and another supplier in Baltimore. Those two people, in turn, introduced Allen and her partner to two other Front Royal residents, one of whom subsequently died from an overdose.

Wolthuis’ sentencing memorandum estimated that more than 25 people were introduced to Allen and her partner, either directly or indirectly, through Nesmith.

Harris told Urbanski that Wolthuis’ call for a 15-year sentence was “shockingly disproportionate” to those imposed on other defendants in similar cases involving fatal or non-fatal heroin overdoses.

Harris blamed Smith for actions that led to Nesmith obtaining the heroin that caused the near-fatal overdose of Jerry Brown, 46, in Front Royal on April 8, 2014. Harris said Smith asked her boyfriend the day before to try to obtain some heroin from Allen. Nesmith agreed to the request, and he, Smith, Brown and a second woman traveled to Baltimore. After arriving at Allen’s residence, Nesmith collected money from the others for heroin that his aunt had obtained for them, Harris said.

“He made no money on this transaction,” Harris said of her client. “He went to help out his girlfriend at the time.”

Brown overdosed the next day after returning to Front Royal. The timely administration of Naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of heroin, saved him.

A statement of facts in the court file describes Brown’s near-death experience: “After using the heroin, Brown tried to move on the couch he was sitting on and fell forward and crashed through a coffee table. Brown was unresponsive and his lips turned blue. The people called 911, rubbed Brown with ice and administered CPR until Emergency Medical Services arrived within nine minutes. EMS immediately administered Naloxone (Narcan), and Brown responded. Brown was then transported to the Warren County hospital for continuing treatment. The treating medical professionals considered Brown’s condition to be critical and believed there was a high probability of imminent death or life-threatening deterioration of his condition, without continued medical treatment.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com