Wednesday, December 9th, 2009
By Margie Wuebker
Celina man pleads guilty in overdose death
As prospective jurors waited patiently for selection to begin Monday morning on day number one of a scheduled four-day trial, a 60-year-old Celina man and his attorneys met behind closed doors with prosecutors before ultimately entering an unusual plea.
Phillip Roy Schmidt, who has been incarcerated at the Mercer County Jail since his arrest in July, entered what is known as an "Alford guilty plea" to three counts - reckless homicide, trafficking in drugs within the vicinity of a school and an amended charge of corrupting another with drugs. The charges stem from the June 9 death of 36-year-old Michelle Riley after she reportedly sucked on a painkiller patch he sold.
The plea, which is not commonly heard in local court proceedings, acknowledges prosecutors likely have sufficient evidence for conviction. However, it permits Schmidt to dispute the facts in the case while maintaining his innocence and accepting a plea bargain, according to Mercer County Prosecutor Andy Hinders.
In exchange for the plea, the state dismissed 10 remaining counts in the indictment including involuntary manslaughter and agreed not to pursue charges relating to violation of community control sanctions. The offenses occurred while Schmidt was serving three years probation in a 2007 falsification case.
Judge Sumner E. Walters, who is handling the case by appointment, set sentencing for Dec. 23. He explained Schmidt faces a maximum of 18 years in prison if the time is imposed consecutively. He also pointed out a sentence of 10 or more years is not subject to early release.
In addition, the Celina man faces up to $35,000 in fines of which $12,500 is mandatory as well as mandatory operator's license suspension.
Celina Police responded to the home of Brett and Michelle Riley at 428 E. Livingston St. the night of June 9 after the couple's children were unable to rouse them.
Michelle Riley, a banker at Chase Bank in Celina, was pronounced dead at the scene while her 42-year-old husband Brett was rushed to Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater unconscious but breathing.
Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Fox said Brett Riley purchased a Fentanyl patch from Schmidt for $56 after tracking him down at Roberts Town Tavern in Celina. They reportedly went to a Morton Street residence to get the patch, and Brett Riley subsequently turned down an offer to go out for a drink, saying his wife was home waiting. It was not the first transaction between the pair involving drugs for recreational use, according to Fox.
The Rileys allegedly sucked on pieces of the patch to obtain a heightened effect from the narcotic it contained. Fentanyl is prescribed for long-term or chronic pain not relieved by other pain medications like morphine and codeine. When used properly, the patches provide a slow release of painkilling drugs over a period of 12 to 24 hours. An overdose leads to swelling of the mouth and face, difficulty breathing, seizures and ultimately death.
An autopsy conducted at the Montgomery County Coroner's Office determined the cause of Michelle Riley's death as Fentanyl and alcohol intoxication.
Fox credited the quick response of paramedics with saving Brett Riley's life. "A few minutes more and he would have died of cardiac arrest," the assistant prosecutor added.
Riley regained consciousness at the hospital and allegedly told medical personnel about the use of Fentanyl in an attempt to help his wife. He was unaware of her death at that time.
Schmidt reportedly had a prescription for Fentanyl patches and had obtained 15 of them at an area pharmacy the previous day.
Riley remains free on bond pending a Dec. 16 pretrial hearing. He faces two counts of involuntary manslaughter as well as one count each of reckless homicide, corrupting another with drugs, trafficking in drugs and possession of drugs.
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