Saginaw man gets up to 40 years in prison in connection with fatal overdose
The last of three defendants charged in connection with the April overdose death of Emily Dennis was sentenced Monday in Tuscola County Circuit Court.
Edward Dontae Forte, 38, of Saginaw, was sentenced to 15 to 40 years in prison for delivery of a controlled substance causing death, and 15 to 30 years in prison for delivery of less than 50 grams of a controlled substance. Forte was convicted of the two counts following a jury trial in February.
Dennis, a 26-year-old Caro woman, was found unresponsive by authorities at a home on the 5000 block of Dodge Road in Elmwood Township, near Cass City, in the early morning hours of April 20. Her death was ruled a heroin overdose. Shortly after, Dennis’ boyfriend Adam Robert Maxson, Tyler James Meffer and Forte were arrested in connection with the overdose.
All three were charged with delivery of a controlled substance causing death – a possible life offense. The causing death charge against Maxson and Meffer was dropped after both accepted plea bargains in August. Forte, too, was offered the opportunity to accept a plea bargain, but opted to fight the charges in a jury trial.
Through an investigation, local police and the Tuscola County Prosecutor’s Office determined that, according to a news release after Forte’s conviction, “(Forte) was alleged to have been involved in the sale of heroin, which was verified through laboratory testing to have been laced with fentanyl. The delivery of heroin initially occurred on April 19, 2017, in the city of Saginaw.”
Heroin laced with the opiate fentanyl can be 100 times more powerful than regular heroin and is a key factor in a substance-abuse issue that is currently gripping the nation.
Prosecutors said the heroin passed from Forte, to Meffer, to Maxson, who was present when the drug was taken by Dennis.
“It’s a little bit unusual in that we were able to establish, in essence, the chain of the drugs passing from Point A, to Point B, to Point C,” Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene told The Advertiser in June, following Forte’s arrest. “Oftentimes, you’re not able to do that through an investigation. But in this case, we were able to do that.”
During Monday’s sentencing, Tuscola County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Eric Wanink, who tried the case, sought a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. Tuscola Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart instead sentenced Forte to two minimum terms of 15 years, which are to be served concurrently. She gave Forte credit for 293 days already served.
“As we go back and look at Mr. Forte’s childhood, (it’s) less than desirable, less than what children deserve,” Gierhart said before handing down the sentence, adding that she was aware that there was narcotic abuse in his home when he was a child. “So that Mr. Forte would engage in substance abuse and sale of narcotics goes along with, unfortunately, the way he was brought up.”
Forte was defended by Saginaw attorney Alan Crawford, who told the court that his client would appeal the guilty verdict.
“This an unfortunate set of circumstances that bring us here today, and we certainly feel sorry for Emily Dennis and her family,” Crawford said at Monday’s sentencing. “And we understand what today’s purpose is. But Mr. Forte maintains his innocence on this delivery causes death charge. This isn’t the proper forum to relitigate issues, but we feel that this court should take into consideration the evidence from the trial.”
According to the Michigan Department of Corrections website, Forte previously spent over 11 years in prison following a robbery conviction in Saginaw County. He was released in September 2012. He was convicted in July in Saginaw County Circuit Court on two counts of possession of less than 25 grams of cocaine in connection with an incident that occurred in February 2017.
Despite his conviction record, Crawford maintained that Forte could still be a contributing member of society.
“Mr. Forte is not lost your honor,” Crawford said to Gierhart. “He’s made some mistakes in his life, and as evidenced by the interview that was played, I believe twice, during the course of his trial, he’s had a rough life. He had to take on the responsibilities of his household when I believe he was 14 or 15 years old to provide for his younger brothers and sisters.
“He is not lost, he is someone who can still contribute to society.”
Forte did not speak on his own behalf Monday.
Prior to handing down her sentence, Gierhart spoke about the effect the overdose would have on Dennis’ young daughter, as well as the effect the incident would have on Forte’s three children.
“Regardless of what I do today, Miss Dennis will not be back with us, unfortunately her daughter will still be an orphan,” Gierhart said. “She’s an orphan because both her parents are deceased as a result of controlled substances.
“There’s so many children that are related to this case who will be without a parent.”
After Crawford spoke his allocation, Wanink offered his.
“Although Miss Dennis was an addict, for all intents and purposes, she certainly did not deserve to die,” Wanink said. “And the problem we have as society, people like this defendant profit off addiction.
“It is people like this defendant that know their clients are addicts and simply do not care and continue to furnish those controlled substances to these people.”
Last month, Maxson and Meffer each received prison terms for their roles in Dennis’ overdose.
Maxson, 32, of Cass City, was convicted on three felony charges, receiving eight to 15 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and identical six to 20-year terms for controlled substance – inducing a person to violate and delivery/manufacture of less than 50 grams of a controlled substance. Maxson, who was on parole at the time of the incident, is serving the sentences concurrently with any prison time he receives for violating parole.
Meffer, 24, of Millington, was sentenced to 34 months to 20 years in prison with credit for 286 days served for two felony counts of delivery/manufacture of less than 50 grams of a controlled substance.