Judge declares mistrial in Northern California’s first fentanyl-murder trial. Here’s why

A Placer Superior Court judge declared a mistrial Friday in Northern California’s first fentanyl-murder jury trial after a lab failed to provide a document, officials said.

Carson Schewe, 22, has pleaded not guilty to murder and two counts of drug sales in the December 2021 overdose death of Kade Kristopher Webb, 20, at a Safeway on Roseville’s Sierra Boulevard. Schewe appeared this week at the Historic Courthouse in Auburn as his trial began and attorneys presented evidence.

Deputy District Attorney Devan Portillo began calling witnesses after opening statements concluded on Tuesday. He had planned on calling several doctors to speak about fentanyl, according to his opening statement.

Portillo was eliciting testimony from an NMS Labs toxicologist, Brianna Peterson, about the victim’s blood tests on Thursday. NMS Labs bills itself as a company offering forensic toxicology laboratory tests and clinical drug monitoring programs associated with postmortem toxicology. District attorney’s offices around the country often contract its services for lab work.

Peterson failed to provide both the prosecution and defense with report detailing a summary of results, the Placer County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

Expert witnesses are required to turn over documents used in a case to attorneys, who are then mandated to turn over all materials to every lawyer in a case.

Judge Michael Jones declared a mistrial Friday, Placer Superior Court records show. Jones declared a new jury must be selected and set a new trial selection date on March 7.

Public defender Brad Whatcott and Rohan Beesla, representing Schewe, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The District Attorney’s Office did not comment on the report’s contents.

The Placer County District Attorney’s Office has been among the first to charge alleged dealers of the synthetic opioid with homicide as fentanyl overdose deaths soared in the county. Schewe’s case was the first time Placer County prosecutors charged a defendant with murder for allegedly supplying the drug to a person who died of an overdose and argued the case in front of a jury. District Attorney Morgan Gire has secured convictions against other defendants who killed victims by giving fentanyl, but they accepted plea deals and skipped a jury trial.

Gire said it’s unfortunate there are honest human mistakes that can cause delays in a case, but attorneys will try to move forward and proceed with the case as quickly as they can to reduce trauma to the victim’s family.

During the opening statements, Portillo argued Schewe knew of fentanyl’s dangers: People close to him died from its toxicity and he overdosed himself.

Whatcott sowed doubt that his client acted with malice to kill Schewe and that he supplied the narcotic leading to Webb’s death. He noted his client is guilty of selling drugs, but asked jurors to return with a not guilty verdict on the murder charge.