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Jury quickly convicts ex-Angels staffer in overdose death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs

Eric Kay, 47, faces up to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death.

FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) – A federal jury deliberated for only three hours Thursday before convicting a former Los Angeles Angels communications director of dealing opioids that killed pitcher Tyler Skaggs during a road trip in Texas.

Eric Kay, 47, looked down and was silent as the verdict was read. Federal marshals immediately handcuffed Kay and took him into custody. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death. Kay, who reportedly rejected a plea deal on the eve of trial, will be sentenced in June.

Prosecutors told jurors during closing arguments Thursday morning that the government had successfully proven Kay was the only source of drugs that killed Skaggs, 27, on the night of July 1, 2019. Skaggs choked on his own vomit at a hotel in Southlake before a game against 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 cellphone records indicate Skaggs texted Kay that afternoon asking for five pills.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Beran walked the jury through the evidence presented during the eight days of trial. She said Kay was solely Skaggs’ drug dealer and that the two regularly communicated in spite of not being friends away from baseball.

“Only one person gave Tyler Skaggs pills,” Beran said. “This case is about one person.”

Beran alluded to the former teammates of Skaggs who testified, noting that four of them said his death dissuaded them from using oxycodone ever again.

“All those people were one pill away from dying alone in a hotel room from a drug that Eric Kay gave them,” she said.

Defense attorney Michael Molfetta disagreed, telling jurors the government was asking them to make “assumptions” over facts in “reverse engineering” the case. He dismissed the text messages Kay and Skaggs exchanged as not being sufficient proof of any drug deal.

“Find the evidence that he [Kay] gave him [Skaggs] the pills that night,” Mofetta said. “The government is getting you to look anywhere but the facts.”

Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout walks by a picture of Tyler Skaggs in center field prior to a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Anaheim, Calif., in this Thursday, July 25, 2019 photo. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

The defense repeatedly argued at trial Skaggs was killed by drugs he obtained through other sources, claiming he was given pink Percocet pills by former teammate Matt Harvey. Kay claims he saw Skaggs snort a pink powder of Percocet the night of his death.

Testifying as a government witness with immunity, Harvey told jurors two days ago he bought pills from Kay and received them from an outside source in Rhode Island twice. He said one of those times from the outside source was in April 2019 when Skaggs requested the pills.

Kay’s former subordinate, current Angels communications director Adam Chodzko, testified Monday that Kay originally told him a rumor Skaggs choked on gummy bears before later admitting he saw Skaggs snort three lines of drugs the night he died.

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.

Kay's conviction comes as MLB is also dealing with a lockout of players that began in December, the league’s ninth work stoppage. The league has suspended testing for performance-enhancing drugs during the lockout.

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.

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