Hinsdale couple charged with selling heroin that led to fatal overdose
PITTSFIELD — When Shawn Filiault's mother went to check on him in his room on Feb. 5, he was unconscious and barely breathing.
Filiault, 39, was in the final throes of a fatal heroin overdose, triggered by a particularly lethal batch of heroin labeled as "American Gangster" that was laced with fentanyl.
On Monday morning, a Hinsdale couple was arraigned in Central Berkshire District Court on manslaughter charges for allegedly selling Filiault the drug that killed him.
Michael J. "Mickey" Litchfield, 43, and his wife, Kate L. Frissell, 35, are also charged with conspiracy to violate drug laws and possession of heroin with intent to distribute.
Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Dana A. Parsons said Monday she is "very confident" the cases will be submitted to a grand jury for consideration to be moved into Superior Court.
Filiault allegedly purchased the heroin, which has been linked to overdoses throughout the state, on the day of his death.
Purchases were typically made by making arrangements via text message.
Filiault would pick up drugs left behind in an ice chest at the couple's Bingham Street home and leave payment behind.
He had been purchasing heroin from a different dealer in September 2015 and switched to buying them from Frissell — his former sister in-law — in mid-October after some kind of falling out with his former dealer.
By late October, Filiault was dealing with Litchfield directly at Frissell's request.
According to investigators, Filiault was purchasing most of his heroin from the couple between October and January 15 and after that, bought exclusively from them.
Based on text communications between the three, police estimate Filiault made about 41 purchases from Litchfield and Frissell, either together or separately.
On the day of his death, Filiault returned to his mother's home after making his purchase and that afternoon said he was going upstairs to take a nap, but would be up about 3:30 p.m. for work.
When he was not up as expected, his mother went to his room where she found him, but believed he was suffering a heart attack.
She said no one else had come or gone from the house during that time.
Police and first responders were called and Filiault was taken to Berkshire Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
A state medical examiner declared Filiault's death was an accidental overdose caused by acute fentanyl intoxication.
Investigators said heroin found in Filiault's room, in bags labeled "American Gangster" tested positive for fentanyl.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, out of 1,319 opiod-related deaths last year, 754 of them had a positive screening for fentanyl.
A warrant was granted to police on July 8 and the couple was placed under arrest.
During his interview with police, Litchfield said he was selling heroin to a small group of people, including about six others besides Filiault and was dealing drugs to help support his wife's habit.
Litchfield, who told police he was still under the impression Filiault had died from a heart attack, said he wasn't aware of the potency of the drug, because he, himself, does not use heroin.
He told police he got his supply from Holyoke-area dealers.
Litchfield said he was aware some dealers will lace their heroin with fentanyl in the hopes of an overdose to build that brand's notoriety.
The distribution of American Gangster heroin led to a rash of overdoses in the region late last year.
Kenneth J. Rathbun, 53, of Pittsfield, pleaded guilty last week to heroin charges after being found on two occasions in possession of American Gangster heroin.
Trevor T. Shepard, of Bennington, Vt., faces a charge of second-degree murder for allegedly selling the same brand of heroin to a man who later died from an overdose.
In arguing for bail, Litchfield's attorney, Marc Vincelette, said a $1,000 cash bail would be enough to ensure his client's return to court.
He said Litchfield had ample opportunity to flee during the investigation into the circumstances of Filiault's death if that was his intention and did not do so.
He also noted there were some potential weaknesses in the state's case.
Vincelette said there was a lack of evidence to suggest Litchfield knew the heroin he sold was laced with fentanyl nor that he was the one who added it to the heroin.
He added the state may have difficulty proving the lethal dose came from that particular type of heroin as there were empty bags in Filiault's room found after his death with several different labels.
Parsons had asked for $50,000 bail for Litchfield and $25,000 for Frissell, saying there was different levels of culpability among the pair and Frissell has less of a criminal record than her husband.
"(Litchfield's) actions and inactions in this case are serious enough to warrant the high bail," Parsons said.
Judge William Rota set bail at $25,000 each for the couple.
Frissell is due back in court Friday for a bail hearing, Litchfield is due back on Aug. 11 for a pretrial hearing, though he can appeal his bail in Superior Court.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.