Man gets 20 years in teen's heroin death
A 39-year-old Lewistown man was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison for injecting heroin into a teen two years ago that resulted in her death.
Jeremy Settles, who had pleaded guilty to distribution of heroin in December, received the mandatory minimum of 20 years from U.S. District Judge James Shadid for his role in the July 3, 2010, death of Rebecca Chambers, 18, of rural Lewistown.
The federal courtroom was filled with family and friends of Chambers, many of whom wore tribute T-shirts with a montage of photos on the front and angel wings on the back. Her mother, Tammy Chambers, and older sister, Bobbie Sue Chambers, read written statements in shaky but unbroken voices to Shadid before he rendered the sentence.
"She's been gone 23 months and it hurts as much today as the day I lost her," said Tammy Chambers. "Rebecca was no angel, she'd be the first to tell you, but she never deserved for her life to be ended in this way."
The sentencing began with expert testimony to determine whether it was heroin that killed Rebecca Chambers or a combination of heroin and other substances. On the line for Settles was no time in prison to 20 years if Shadid found that factors other than heroin caused the teen's death, or 20 years to life in prison if he found heroin was a contributing cause of death.
Forensic pathologist Scott Denton testified elevated amounts of the prescription drug Xanax were found in her system, but that Rebecca Chambers would not have died if she had not taken heroin.
"But not for the heroin, would she have lived?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Tate Chambers asked Denton.
"If she had not done heroin she would have lived, yes," Denton responded.
Shadid immediately found that heroin was a contributing cause of death, triggering the higher sentencing structure. At that point, the 20-year sentence was the least Settles could receive.
Shadid harshly criticized Settles before announcing the sentence, saying he failed to exercise any adult responsibility and selfishly delayed a call for help when it was clear that Rebecca Chambers was in physical distress.
"Knowing that an 18-year-old teen was using heroin, did he call her parents? Did he tell the young lady to stop? Did he tell the young lady to go home? Did he ask the young lady the name of her friends and call them to come get her? Did he make any effort to deny her access to the drugs? No, he did none of those," Shadid said. "His concern for keeping himself out of jail overrode any thought to get this young woman the help that she obviously needed."
Shadid ended with the reading of a dictionary definition.
"I am not a judge that resorts to name calling and not one to lecture. Instead I will recite for you that the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines despicable as 'being so worthless as to rouse moral indignation' and leave it at that."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @scotthilyard.