PINE TOWNSHIP – The attorney for a Lawrence County man accused of providing a fatal dose of fentanyl to a Grove City man argued in court that the prosecution failed to prove its case.
“On a perfect day, this court would throw everything out because of lack of evidence,” Butler attorney Stephen Misko said during a preliminary hearing held July 29 for Brandon O’Brien Bowers, of Plain Grove Township.
Bowers was charged earlier this month by Grove City police in the 2019 drug overdose death of Michael Robert Herndon, 33. Bowers faces charges of charges of third-degree murder; drug delivery resulting in death; manufacture, delivery of possession with intent to manufacture or deliver; involuntary manslaughter; recklessly endangerment; and possession of a controlled substance.
District Judge D. Neil McEwen, Pine Township, held all charges to the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas, and said there is “overwhelming” evidence that Bowers, 33, of 1800 Brent Road, provided the fentanyl that caused Herndon’s overdose.
During the hearing Wednesday, Mercer County Assistant District Attorney Shane Crevar called three witnesses to testify — Grove City police Patrolmen Robert Steese and Jesse DePietro, and Michelle Jordan, an acquaintance of Bowers .
Steese has also worked as an emergency medical technician and said he is familiar with signs of a drug overdose. He responded at 12:04 a.m. July 13, 2019, to a potential overdose at Herndon’s Stewart Avenue home.
He testified that Herndon’s condition was consistent with that of an overdose. Mercer County Deputy Coroner Dr. David Hoyt listed “fentanyl overdose” as the cause of Herndon’s death, July 13, 2019.
DePietro testified that he was assigned to investigate Herndon’s death. During a search of Herndon’s bedroom, DePietro said he found a small piece of white paper that tested positive for the presence of fentanyl and a handwritten list of names and phone numbers.
The list contained a cell phone number for a person, later identified as Bowers, listed only as “B.”
Julie Herndon told DePietro that her son often spent time in the garage, where DePietro found a debit card receipt dated 7:47 p.m. July 12, 2019, for the purchase of gas and two energy drinks from a local gas station.
DePietro reviewed video surveillance from the business, and it showed a man paying for those items at that time. Julie Herndon identified the man in the video as Bowers.
DePietro met with Bowers July 15, 2019, at the Grove City police station. Bowers turned up for the police interview with Jordan, even though DePietro asked him to come alone.
DePietro testified that Bowers told DePietro brought Jordan so that police could “kill two birds with one stone.”
DePietro said Bowers contradicted himself several times during the interview.
Bowers told police that he last saw Herndon on July 12 at the Stewart Avenue home. Bowers said he dropped off a set of headphones, and that Jordan was with him. Herndon allowed Bowers to use his debit card to settle a debt, DePietro said.
DePietro testified Bowers said Herndon was “acting weird” that night and thought he was high.
Bowers was arrested July 15 after a traffic stop. The police officer testified Bowers said immediately after his arrest that he didn’t make him, meaning Herndon, shoot the drugs.
“How are you charging me with murder? I didn’t hold a gun to his head,” Bowers asked, DePietro testified.
Bowers made those statements before police questioned him, DePietro said.
Jordan, the final witness, testified that she was friends with Bowers when they were teens, and they reconnected in June 2019, starting a romantic relationship. Jordan said Bowers asked her to accompany him to the police station for the initial interview.
She testified that Bowers asked her to tell police that they were together on July 12, and to say that Herndon seemed to be under the influence of something.
Misko said the prosecution provided no evidence of Bowers giving drugs to Herndon, and Bowers never admitted to taking drugs to Herndon’s home.
Crevar countered by saying police had recovered a paper laced with fentanyl, Herndon had fentanyl in his system, and that Bowers asked Jordan to lie about what happened that night.
In issuing his ruling, McEwen said Bowers’ statement at the time of his arrest that he didn’t force Herndon to take the drugs implies that he provided the fatal dose of fentanyl.
Bowers was returned to Mercer County Jail, where he’s being held on $250,000 bond, after the hearing.
His Common Pleas Court arraignment is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 29 before Judge Daniel P. Wallace.