A federal jury has convicted a Fresno man for causing the deaths of two people, including the mother of his children, by providing them with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

In a case attracting nationwide attention, the jury on Friday convicted Darnell Pearson, 41, on two counts of distributing fentanyl resulting in death and serious bodily injury.


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Portrait of McGregor Scott, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California

“These two deaths were the first reported fentanyl overdose deaths in Fresno and in Madera. As they demonstrate, fentanyl is extremely dangerous and is a serious public health threat in our area and the nation as a whole. Even trace amounts of this drug can be lethal, and it poses serious risks to those who come into contact with it, including first responders.” — U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott

Customers Thought It Was Cocaine

“This defendant sold what his customers thought was cocaine that was, in fact, fentanyl and caused the deaths of two people and serious injury to two others,” U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said in a statement released Monday.

“These two deaths were the first reported fentanyl overdose deaths in Fresno and in Madera. As they demonstrate, fentanyl is extremely dangerous and is a serious public health threat in our area and the nation as a whole. Even trace amounts of this drug can be lethal, and it poses serious risks to those who come into contact with it, including first responders.”

On Jan. 7, 2019, ambulances rushed three people who said they’d snorted cocaine to Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno. One reportedly was in cardiac arrest and died three days later. The other two survived after receiving the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.

Mother of Pearson’s Children Died in Madera

That same day, according to court documents, the mother of Pearson’s children was found by family members on the floor of her bathroom in Madera. Officers and paramedics were unable to revive her and she died that evening.

“Fentanyl is man-made and potent in the smallest amounts. A few grains of the substance can lead to overdose, and we are increasingly seeing it sold as other illicit drugs,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Daniel C. Comeaux in a statement. “I applaud the collaborative efforts and good old fashioned police work that led to the successful prosecution of this investigation.”

Pearson Scheduled for Sentencing in May

The Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations teamed with the Fresno and Madera police departments on the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laurel Montoya and Michael Tierney are the prosecutors.

Pearson is scheduled for sentencing on May 8. He faces up to life in prison.

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