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Drug charges added against Hempfield man accused of murder

- Eric Fennell, 32, of Hempfield is accused of criminal homicide for a fatal shooting at his home, where police said they found a sophisticated operation for growing marijuana.
Eric Fennell, 32, of Hempfield is accused of criminal homicide for a fatal shooting at his home, where police said they found a sophisticated operation for growing marijuana.
- Fidel O. Velez, 27, of Greensburg, passed away Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Greensburg.
Fidel O. Velez, 27, of Greensburg, passed away Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Greensburg.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

A Hempfield man accused of fatally shooting his friend in January is facing charges for what police describe as a “very sophisticated” marijuana grow operation at his home.

Eric James Fennell, 32, is set for a video arraignment on Wednesday on drug charges that were filed on Monday.

Fennell is being held in the Westmoreland County Prison without bail on a homicide charge in the Jan. 21 death of Fidel Omar Velez, 27, of Southwest Greensburg at Fennell's Swede Hill Road home.

During the investigation into Velez's death, police said, they found marijuana plants, psychedelic mushrooms and cash at Fennell's home.

Trooper Teko Angelicchio said in an affidavit of probable cause that 51 items were seized from Fennell's residence under a search warrant.

“Immediately upon entry, a strong odor of marijuana was detected,” the trooper wrote.

Police found 14 marijuana plants, several glass jars containing about 2 pounds of processed marijuana, 25 Suboxone films (used to treat addiction to heroin or other opioid dependence), approximately 3 ounces of psychedelic mushrooms, suspected hash, drug paraphernalia and $1,218, the affidavit said.

Fennell faces charges of drug manufacturing, drug possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Two alleged grow operations were found in the home — one with psychedelic mushrooms in a bedroom and a second with marijuana in a basement and laundry room, police said.

The marijuana operation in the basement included grow lights, a carbon monoxide generator, air conditioner and dehumidifier, Angelicchio wrote in the affidavit. In the laundry room, marijuana plants were being grown “in a large hydroponic system,” he said.

The discovery was made as police investigated the 2 a.m. shooting after Fennell and his girlfriend, who lived at the home, drove Velez to Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg instead of calling for help.

Fennell claimed the shooting was an accident and said Velez was his best friend. His attorney could not be reached on Tuesday.

Velez was pronounced dead at 2:22 a.m. Fennell told troopers during an interview at the hospital that Velez “accidentally shot himself” while handling a .25-caliber handgun, according to an affidavit in the homicide case. Fennell later told investigators that he was holding the weapon in his living room when it malfunctioned and fired one shot, striking Velez in the chest, investigators said.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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