BANGOR, Maine — A Rockland woman who admitted supplying a dose of methadone to her brother the day he died five years ago will face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison rather than life after a federal judge Thursday found that prosecutors had not proved the drug killed her brother John Kenney.
The sentencing of Rochelle Kenney, 47, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, April 16.
She pleaded guilty last year to distribution of methadone between December 2004 and December 2006 that resulted in a death and to health care fraud during the same period that resulted in a death.
By pleading guilty to the charges, Kenney admitted that she sold and-or gave away methadone that was paid for by Medicaid.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock ruled Thursday after two days of testimony that the government had not met its burden “to prove that it was more likely than not” that John Kenney, 43, of Rockland died as a result of the methadone his sister gave him.
If Woodcock had found Kenney died as a result of the methadone given him by his sister, Rochelle Kenney would have faced 20 years to life in federal prison.
Expert witnesses disagreed over the cause of John Kenney’s death. Dr. David Fowler, the chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland, testified for the defense that it was not possible to determine scientifically whether the man’s enlarged heart or the drugs caused his death. Fowler said that if he were forced to choose whether the drugs or the heart condition killed the fisherman, he would have to say it was the heart condition, “hypertrophic cardiovascular disease.”
Maine’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Margaret Greenwald, testified that her office had concluded the methadone and diazepam found in John Kenney’s bloodstream had caused his death. She also testified that the autopsy report issued by her office noted the man’s heart was unusually large.
“Obviously, it was a very close call by the court,” defense attorney David Bate of Bangor said after Thursday’s proceeding. “It came down to a very close legal issue.”
Bate also said that he expected the recommended sentence under the federal sentencing guideline range to be between one year and 2½ years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, who prosecuted the case, declined to comment. It is the policy of the U.S. Attorney’s Office not to comment on cases until they have been concluded.
Kenney died April 26, 2005, six months after he and three crew mates survived the sinking of the 44-foot dragger Canadian Mist 30 miles southeast of Nantucket, Mass. The day Kenney died, his sister shared with him methadone she had picked up earlier in the day from a Waterville clinic.
Later that day, he flew with others in a private plane from Rockland to Matinicus Island to go on a fishing trip. Shortly after they arrived on the island, he was found slumped over on a doorstep at the home of the person the group had come to visit, according to court documents.
About half a dozen family members Thursday sat behind Rochelle Kenney during the hearing. They quietly wept when John Kenney’s voice filed the courtroom as a recording of messages he left his daughter on the day he died were played.
At the end of the day, relatives, including two women identified as John Kenney’s daughters, hugged the defendant before a U.S. marshal handcuffed her and escorted her from the courtroom.
She has been held without bail since pleading guilty to the charges on June 9 in federal court in Bangor.