Attorney for Jeannette man accused in selling drugs that killed brother questions police investigation
The attorney for a Jeannette man on trial accused of selling a fatal dose of fentanyl to his brother in late 2016 suggested in court Tuesday his client’s stunned acknowledgement of a police inquiry was not a confession.
Defense attorney Brian Aston, in his opening statement, told jurors the arrest of Markus McGowan was the product of an incomplete police investigation that relied on the word of a drug addict.
“Don’t put your blinders on and don’t get tunnel vision. That’s what they’ve done in this case. They haven’t looked around,” Aston said.
McGowan, 31, is charged with one count of drug delivery resulting in death in connection with the fatal overdose of his 22-year-old brother, Matthew McGowan. Police said the younger brother was found Dec. 28, 2016, unresponsive in his Eastmont Avenue apartment in Greensburg.
Westmoreland County prosecutors contend the drugs that caused the fatal overdose were sold by Markus McGowan to his brother for $60 — seven stamp bags of what originally was thought to be heroin. Lab reports later determined the drugs to be fentanyl.
Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanigan called the case a tragedy.
“Did he intend for his brother to die? Did he want his brother to die? No, but there are consequences. He decided that the risk was worth $60,” Flanigan told jurors.
Greensburg police responded to Matthew McGowan’s apartment at 3:44 p.m Dec. 28, 2016, for a report of a woman who had overdosed. Officer Brad Grabiak testified police administered the overdose-reversal drug Narcan and had her transported to a local hospital.
Police were again called to the apartment about two hours later and found Matthew McGowan unconscious. Two doses of Narcan were used but he could not be revived, Grabiak said. Investigators found no other traces of drugs or drug paraphernalia. The woman who had overdosed told police that she and McGowan had used drugs he bought from his brother.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht testified Matthew McGowan died from drug toxicity and no other legal or illegal substances were found in his blood that contributed to the death.
Detective John Swank said Markus McGowan confessed to providing the drugs after he was confronted at his Jeannette home with the news of his brother’s overdose. Swank testified Markus McGowan led investigators to a jar stored behind a closed door that contained 46 stamp bags of a drug later identified as fentanyl.
“He began crying and admitted he sold six bags to his brother on Dec. 27 and gave him an extra bag,” Swank testified.
Swank said messages between the brothers posted on Facebook confirmed the drug sale.
Aston questioned Swank and three other officers about the completeness of the investigation. The defense contends Markus McGowan, a man who has no prior criminal record and a history of working with handicapped children as well as coaching local youth football and other sports, did not confess but attempted to tell investigators the drugs in his home belonged to his brother.
Aston did not dispute the words in the text messages or those his client uttered to police but instead offered a different interpretation.
“Could it mean to get them out of there, I don’t need this stuff. Get your business out of my house?” Aston asked.
The prosecution is expected to continue its case Wednesday when the trial before Common Pleas Judge Christopher Feliciani resumes.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .