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Local sentenced 15 years in overdose death of Oldham Countian

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By Andrew Henderson

A Crestwood man, 23-year-old Phillip Clayton Jennings, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the distribution of fentanyl that resulted in the overdose death of Mason Reppen, a 22-year-old who was also an Oldham County native.

Judge Danny Reeves, a United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky, sentenced Jennings today, Dec. 14, in Lexington.

On Dec. 1, 2017, Lexington Police responded to the scene of an overdose where Reppen was found dead. “The use of fentanyl caused M.R. to fatally overdose,” according to court documents.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.

The Lexington Police Department’s narcotics unit conducted a several month investigation into the overdose. On Feb. 23, 2018 the U.S. Marshals Service arrested Jennings. On June 27, Jennings pleaded guilty in a plea agreement.

Appearing in court, Jennings said Reppen was a good, lifelong friend of his. Reppen and Jennings both graduated from Oldham County High School and attended the University of Kentucky together.

Jennings expressed his remorse to Reppen’s family, his own family and the court as well.

“I really wish words could express how sorry I am,” Jennings said.

Several of his family members, such as his parents and siblings, and friends were in attendance to support him. Additionally, Reeves said several of his family members submitted letters of support to the court.

Representing Jennings were attorneys Scott Crosbie and Eric Eaton.

Crosbie portrayed Jennings’ opioid addiction as him going “off track,” and one he was hiding from his parents and siblings to the point where Crosbie said they were unaware it was happening.

“Clay gave the appearance to everyone else that he did not have a drug problem,” Crosbie said.

Crosbie implored the judge to consider the circumstances of the case: Jennings had no prior criminal record, was at the bottom of a distribution chain, the positive character traits he possessed and the supportive family network he had.  

But, Crosbie also said Jennings was aware of the risk involved selling the drugs and was ready to accept the consequences.

In their investigation, Lexington Police recovered white powder residue and a cell phone from the scene of the overdose. The cell phone included text messages of the drug deal the night before Reppen’s overdose.

“The text messages further show that M.R and Clay were discussing the purported drug transaction and both parties knew that the drug contained fentanyl,” Lexington Police Department Detective Timothy Graul wrote in court documents.

Delivering a victim impact statement, Reppen’s mother, Kelley Wirth remembered the December day when the Fayette County coroner called her to deliver the news of her son’s death, a day she said changed her life forever.

“My heart still, to this day, is breaking,” she said.

Before giving her statement, Wirth showed a framed photo of Reppen to the judge and those in the courtroom, which was taken shortly before his death.

Wirth recalled traveling to Lexington with other family members to see Reppen’s body at the coroner’s office for the first time.

“I had to see my son through a glass window,” she said. “I couldn’t touch him, couldn’t hug him, nothing.”

She said the weeks after that were a blur of family and friends expressing condolences and paying respects.

A year later, she feels anger toward Jennings and confused as to how he could call her son a friend but still have sold him the drugs knowing the risk.

Before issuing the ruling, Reeves spoke briefly about the history of fentanyl and other opioids in the area.

Reeves said opioids have been flooding Kentucky, especially the eastern portion of the state. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Kentucky is among the top 10 states with the highest opioid related overdose deaths.

“I don’t know how many death cases we’ve had, but we’ve had way too many,” he said.

Reeves described Jennings’ selling of drugs as akin to playing Russian roulette and said he’d “have to live in a cave” not to understand how dangerous the drugs he sold were.

Just a little over two weeks ago, a second man also pleaded guilty to the distribution of fentanyl that resulted in Reppen’s death.

On Nov. 26, Lexington resident Garry Sean Ramone Drake, Jr. pleaded guilty to the same charge as Jennings.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, there is proof that both Drake and Jennings were in the chain of distribution of the fentanyl mixture that ultimately led to Reppen’s death.

Drake’s sentencing is set for March 1, 2019 at 10 a.m. in Lexington.

In addition to the 15-year sentence, Reeves also ordered Jennings participate in a drug treatment program, a job skills and training program and recommended he be housed in a prison close to Louisville. However, the federal Bureau of Prisons will have final say on where he’s housed.

At first, Jennings faced a minimum of 20 years in prison, with the possibility of life. Reeves said the circumstances of the case, as well as his own ability to issue a sentencing that would respect the law and promote deterrence, influenced his decision.

Upon his release, Jennings will be under supervision for five years and have to complete 400 hours of community service instead of paying a fine. He’ll also have to provide his probation officer a list of any medications he’s currently or has used and be subject to searches.

Since Reppen’s death, Wirth has become involved with Youth Linking Oldham County (YLOC), an organization through the Coalition for a Healthy Oldham County and she hopes to educate students in Oldham County Schools about the harms of drugs.

When asked what message she would give to other parents who think their children are using drugs, Wirth said it’s important simply to talk with them and know that you care and love them.

“You want to be there and help them get through this,” she said.