Charges in Winhall overdose death moved to federal court
BENNINGTON — A 54-year-old man has been charged by a federal grand jury in connection with a fatal overdose in Winhall, leading to the dismissal of similar state charges last Tuesday.
Denis St. Onge, of Brattleboro, is alleged to have distributed heroin and fentanyl that resulted in the death of 31-year-old Thomas Devens Jr. on Jan. 16, according to federal court records.
St. Onge is charged also with distributing heroin in Windham County on three occasions between September and October 2017.
He is facing potential sentences of 10 years to life in prison on the federal charges. He pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned at the U.S. District Court in Burlington on March 29.
St. Onge was initially charged in state court, but the cases have been dismissed following his federal prosecution, said Bennington County Deputy State's Attorney Robert Plunkett.
His federal charges carry harsher punishments than his state charges.
A day after Devens's death, St. Onge was charged at the Bennington County Superior Court with manslaughter, as well as dispensing heroin and fentanyl that resulted in the younger man's death.
According to police, an officer responded to a report of a drug overdose at a Winhall residence in the wee hours of Jan 16. Devens was found unresponsive, couldn't be revived by the opioid-overdose antidote naloxone and was pronounced dead shortly after.
The Vermont Chief Medical Examiner preliminarily ruled that Devens's cause of death was a drug overdose.
A search of Devens's phone showed he had been texting St. Onge's number to obtain drugs while he was in Brattleboro the day before his death, a police affidavit states. When interviewed by police, St. Onge "admitted that he had purchased Heroin for Devens which he believed killed him."
The federal prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathanael Burris, in his court request for St. Onge's detention while awaiting trial, wrote that the "government's case is strong." Among the evidence it held, Burris said, were the text exchanges between Devens and St. Onge, as well as St. Onge's admission to having given Devens heroin the day before he died.
The document states also that St. Onge revealed that on a previous occasion, Devens collapsed on St. Onge's kitchen floor after he gave the man heroin and watched him overdose. St. Onge apparently revived Devens with naloxone and told him: "'Boy I'm never doing that again. I'm never getting you any ever again.'"
The date of the incident wasn't provided. St. Onge has been distributing heroin in Vermont since at least 2017, a year in which he had been convicted for heroin possession, according to authorities.
His Windham County charges - three counts related to heroin sale or delivery - were dismissed April 2 in favor of the federal charges, according to the county superior court.
Since Jan. 17, St. Onge has been detained at Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton. A federal judge ordered his detention to continue after receiving no objections from St. Onge's defense attorney, Heather Ross of Burlington.
A trial date has not been set.
Tiffany Tan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.
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