TEMECULA, Calif. – A California man has been sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder after giving a woman a fentanyl pill that killed her within minutes of ingesting it.
34-year-old Vicente David Romero was condemned as a “worthless piece of s—” by the victim’s father at his sentencing hearing on Friday in Riverside County Superior Court. Romero had been found guilty of murdering 26-year-old Kelsey King, who died on June 16, 2020 after meeting Romero for the first time earlier that day in Temecula, about 85 miles south of Los Angeles.
Victim’s Father Gives Emotional Statement
Kelsey’s father, Tim King, gave an emotional statement at Romero’s sentencing, saying he struggled with how to explain to Kelsey’s children that “Your mother is dead because a worthless piece of s— wanted to have sex with her and slipped her poison that killed her within three minutes.”
“I hope you suffer in prison for the pain you caused my family. We will never be the same because of you,” King told Romero directly in court.
Judge Warns of Aggressive Prosecution
In handing down the sentence, Judge Timothy Freer said it should be widely known that the district attorney’s office, along with the county sheriff, will aggressively investigate and prosecute individuals who provide fentanyl that leads to death.
“They will seek murder charges in this case. They will obtain convictions,” Freer warned.
Prosecutors Detail How Romero Met, Killed Victim
According to prosecutors, Romero met King for the first time hours before her death on June 16, 2020. He then gave her a counterfeit pharmaceutical pill containing fentanyl which is known on the streets as a “blue” or M30.
Within minutes of ingesting the pill, King suffered an overdose and died. Prosecutors said Romero admitted to investigators that he was aware of how dangerous fentanyl was, having previously overdosed on the drug himself.
Nonetheless, Romero gave King the deadly dose during their first encounter, likely with the aim of having sex with her after ingesting the drug, prosecutors said.
Fentanyl Drives Soaring Overdose Deaths
Public health experts say fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin, is behind the surging drug overdose deaths in recent years. Fentanyl is sometimes mixed with other illicit drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, and users often don’t realize they are ingesting it.
Counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl are also flooding the black market, leading to accidental overdoses when people believe they are taking authentic pharmaceuticals like oxycodone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were nearly 108,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021, a record high driven largely by fentanyl. California alone saw over 5,500 fentanyl-related deaths last year.
Additional Charges for Romero
In addition to the second-degree murder conviction in King’s death, Romero pleaded guilty to five other charges:
- Possession of controlled substances while armed
- Possession of controlled substances for sale
- Being a convicted felon and drug addict in possession of a firearm
- Possession of ammunition by a prohibited person
- Being a felon in possession of a firearm
Romero had a previous felony conviction that prohibited him from possessing firearms or ammunition.
Ongoing Fentanyl Crackdown
Kelsey King’s murder adds to the urgency around tackling the fentanyl crisis devastating communities across the country. Her case demonstrates the aggressive efforts underway by law enforcement and prosecutors to go after those distributing the deadly drug.
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said after the sentencing that he hopes it sends a message that his office will continue working with police to build cases against anyone supplying fatal doses of fentanyl.
With fentanyl driving record drug deaths, cases like Romero’s are likely just the beginning as authorities fight back against the epidemic. But for Kelsey King’s family and others who have lost loved ones, the push comes too late.