Involuntary Manslaughter Conviction Reversed

Involuntary Manslaughter Conviction Reversed
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BERLIN– A Berlin man convicted in 2016 of involuntary manslaughter after supplying heroin to another man prior to a fatal overdose had that conviction reversed this week by a state appeals court.

In May 2016, Robert Skinkle, now 32, of Berlin, was found guilty in Worcester County Circuit Court of possession with intent to distribute heroin, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment for supplying heroin to another man who fatally overdosed in November 2015. Skinkle was sentenced to 16 years for the heroin distribution count, all but 10 years of which were suspended. He was also sentenced to 10 years for the involuntary manslaughter count, which was merged with the distribution count to be served concurrently.

During evidence presented at trial, Skinkle’s phone records revealed a series of text messages between Skinkle and the victim in the days prior to the fatal overdose. Skinkle called that evidence into question when he appealed the involuntary manslaughter conviction.

This week, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals concurred, reversing the involuntary manslaughter conviction and remanding the case back to circuit court for re-sentencing on the remaining counts.

“The appellant presents one question for review,” the opinion reads. “Was the evidence legally sufficient to sustain the appellant’s gross negligence involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment convictions? For the reasons that follow, we shall reverse the appellant’s convictions for involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment and remand for resentencing on the remaining convictions.”

A search of the victim’s cell phone records revealed a series of text messages between the victim and Skinkle beginning six days before the victim’s death. Skinkle acknowledged that Taylor sent him a text message that said he was looking for heroin. According to court documents, Skinkle admitted on the day the victim died, Skinkle purchased 13 bags of heroin from a dealer and brought it to the victim’s house.

According to court documents, Skinkle kept eight bags of heroin for himself and gave the victim the five remaining bags. Skinkle reportedly told the victim he was not sure the victim should use all five bags at once, because the victim had only used four bags when he and Skinkle had used heroin together on previous occasions.

Skinkle and the victim proceeded to inject themselves with their share of the heroin at the same time and, shortly thereafter, the victim lost consciousness, according to court documents. Skinkle reportedly attempted to revive the victim briefly. He also used his phone to conduct an internet search and visited a website titled, “help, my friend is overdosing in front of me,” according to court documents.

Skinkle reportedly left the residence when he saw the victim was not breathing and had no pulse, according to court documents. Skinkle said he did not seek help because he was “too upset,” and he “freaked out,” according to court documents.

In the appeal, Skinkle asserted the evidence presented at trial did not demonstrate he knew the inherent danger in providing the victim with the heroin on which he overdosed.

“The appellant’s sole contention on appeal is that the evidence was insufficient sustain his convictions for gross negligence involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment,” the opinion reads. “Specifically, he asserts that evidence that he was aware of the danger of heroin, yet provided it to the victim, without more, does not support a finding that his conduct amounted to a wanton and reckless disregard for human life.”

During trial, the prosecution asserted Skinkle knew or should have known the amount of heroin he provided to the victim was potentially dangerous. They also questioned his leaving the scene without seeking medical attention for the victim. However, the high court did not see it that way and reversed the involuntary manslaughter conviction.

“The state maintains that evidence of the appellant’s experience with heroin and his knowledge of the increased danger of the sale raised the risk level of the exchange, and was therefore sufficient to support a finding of gross negligence,” the opinion reads. “Based on our review of the record, we agree with the appellant that his convictions must be reversed.”

In the opinion, the appeals court suggests the evidence presented at trial did not sustain the conviction for involuntary manslaughter.

“Although it can be inferred from the text messages that the appellant had previously obtained heroin for the victim, there was no evidence at trial demonstrating that such transactions happened routinely, as the state claims, nor was there evidence that the appellant ever sold drugs to anyone else,” the opinion reads. “There was no evidence that the heroin the appellant purchased and split with the victim contained anything other than heroin or was particularly potent. There was no evidence that the victim was desperate for heroin, that he had previously overdosed, or that he was otherwise at a heightened risk of harm.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.