FORT WORTH (CN) — The trial of a former staffer for the Los Angeles Angels baseball club began Tuesday with his attorneys telling a federal jury someone else was possibly the source of opioids for deceased pitcher Tyler Skaggs during a road trip through Dallas.
Eric Prescott Kay, 47, faces up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl while employed as the Angels’ communications director.
Skaggs, 27, choked on his own vomit and died on July 1, 2019, at a hotel in Southlake before a game with the Texas Rangers. The Tarrant County medical examiner concluded the death was accidental and found a mixture of “ethanol, fentanyl and oxycodone” in his body.
Police founds blue and pink pills in Skaggs’ room, as well as white residue that contained fentanyl. Prosecutors claim mobile phone records indicate Skaggs texted Kay that afternoon asking for five pills.
Kay rejected a plea deal on the eve of trial Monday. The closely followed criminal case has been deeply embarrassing to Major League Baseball — a league that has tried to aggressively test and punish players for drug use, yet has a front office employee accused of dealing synthetic opioids to the same players. The trial comes as MLB is also dealing with a lockout of players that began in December, the league’s ninth work stoppage.
Kay appeared relaxed during his first day of trial, wearing a blue suit jacket, dark red tie and gray pants. Jury selection lasted approximately three hours, with two men and ten women selected.
During oral arguments in the afternoon, prosecutors repeatedly told jurors Kay was the only source of drugs for Skaggs the day he died. Defense attorneys disagreed, claiming Skaggs told Kay on the day of his death that he received pink pills of Percocet from teammate Matt Harvey.
Harvey pitched for the Angels in 12 games in 2019 before he was released. He is currently unsigned.
Kay’s attorneys told the jury he witnessed Skaggs snorting a pink powder of Percocet the night of his death.
The trial is expected to last up to two weeks. Approximately 80 people are included on the potential witness list, including Harvey and six other former Angel players — Cam Bedrosian, C.J. Cron, Andrew Heaney, Mike Morin, Blake Parker and Garrett Richards.
Prosecutors declined to name Harvey during opening arguments as a possible drug source, but they did say an unidentified player will testify that he had given pink pills to Skaggs before the road trip to Texas.
Skaggs’ widow, Carli Skaggs, and his parents filed separate state civil lawsuits last year in California and Texas, respectively. The lawsuits claim the Angels were aware Kay was dealing drugs to at least five other players — 24% of the team’s active roster.
“The Angels knew that Kay had gone to rehab several times during his employment with the Angels and that he had overdosed at least once,” Carli Skaggs’ lawsuit stated. “Despite all of this, Kay had complete access to players, day and night both off the field and on the field, who the Angels knew, or should have known, were trying to play through the pains and injuries associated with the long baseball season.”
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