A former Los Angeles Angels employee was found guilty on Thursday of giving drugs to Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, which led to his death in Texas after an overdose. Los Angeles Angels staffer Eric Kay also was found guilty on one count of drug distribution resulting in death and one count of drug conspiracy. He faces up to life in prison.
Skaggs was only 27 years old when he was found died on July 1, 2019 after choking on his own vomit, just days before the start of a four-game series against the Texas Rangers. Skaggs' widow, Carli, and his mother, Debbie, were seen hugging each other at the courtroom following the announcement of the verdict.
Justice at Last
Skaggs had choked to death on his vomit, according to a coroner's report, and had a lethal cocktail of alcohol, fentanyl, and oxycodone in his system. Kay, 47, the baseball team's public relations director, was accused of giving Skaggs the counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl. Kay had recently returned on the road with the squad following a period in a rehab.
On Thursday, the verdict was announced in a federal courthouse in downtown Fort Worth, some 15 miles from where the Angels were scheduled to begin a four-game series against the Texas Rangers on July 1, 2019, the day Skaggs was found dead in a suburban Dallas hotel room.
"This case is a sober reminder: Fentanyl kills. Anyone who deals fentanyl whether on the streets or out of a world-famous baseball stadium puts his or her buyers at risk. No one is immune from this deadly drug," US Attorney Chad E Meacham said in a statement.
The jury reached the verdict after a eight-day trial. The verdict was received with mixed emotions from both the parties. After the verdict was read, Skaggs' widow and mother hugged each other, while Kay nodded to his family and friends in the courtroom as he was taken out of his jacket and tie and placed in handcuffs.
Accident or Murder?
Five major league baseball pitchers testified at Kay's trial in the Northern District of Texas, alleging that they obtained oxycodone from him while working in the Angels' bullpen. Matt Harvey, a former Mets pitcher and All-Star, was one of the several who admitted to obtaining oxycodone tablets from Kay. He also admitted to using cocaine while with the Mets throughout his testimony.
According to testimony and court documents, Kay himself was into drugs. In fact, when he returned to the club in 2019, he had only recently completed opioid treatment at a rehab.
"We're obviously disappointed in the verdict. We thought there were many reasons to doubt the government's case," said Reagan Wynn, one of Kay's attorneys. "This is a tragedy all the way around. Eric Kay is getting ready to do minimum 20 years in a federal penitentiary and it goes up from there. And Tyler Skaggs is gone."
After Skaggs' death, Kay was placed on leave and never returned to the squad. He refused to testify.
Kay's lawyers later admitted that he lied to authorities the day Skaggs was discovered dead by claiming that he hadn't seen him the night before. Kay told Adam Chodzko, one of his colleagues at the time and the present Angels director of communications, that he had been in Skaggs' hotel room a few weeks later.
Kay said Chodzko that he didn't provide Skaggs pills that night and denied Skaggs' offer to do drugs in the room, according to Chodzko.
Prosecutors put their case to rest on Tuesday when Carli, Tyler's widow, gave heartbreaking testimony. Carli said, "I'm sorry, folks," as she struggled to gather her thoughts. "This is just really hard for me."
Carli Skaggs testified that she was unaware of the extent of her husband's drug usage and that if she had known, she would have sought to intervene. During cross examination Molfetta asked Carli about a text she wrote to her husband before he died in 2019 warning him not to get drunk and fall asleep. After receiving no response, she wrote a follow-up text. "You have a drinking problem, I'm about to tell Tom Taylor," Carli wrote referring to the Angels' traveling secretary.
"You're asking about a text that I sent out of anger saying something that wasn't true that my husband couldn't respond to because he was dead," Carli said in reply to Molfetta's question on Tuesday.
That said, prosecutors didn't establish Kay gave Skaggs the medications after the team arrived in Texas on a flight from California, or that fentanyl was the sole cause, said lead defense attorney Michael Molfetta.
Molfetta pointed to a white board on which prosecutors claimed their case was written. It was covered in magnetic tiles depicting text exchanges between Skaggs and Kay, as well as departure and arrival timings and other information from June 30 to July 1.
"Those tiles, these things they've put up there, they prove nothing but what's on the tiles," Molfetta said. "There are so many assumptions behind it."
Kay faces a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and maximum of life on the distribution charge resulting in death. The conspiracy count carries a maximum of 20 years.