SULLIVAN CO. Tenn. (WJHL) — Shianne Shelton’s fiance never pulled a trigger or committed physical violence against her, but with Shelton’s life lost to a fentanyl overdose, Jason Easter could spend up to 15 years of his life behind bars for allegedly providing her the drug that killed her.
“It was huge when they called and told me what the investigation was and what the charge was going to be because I had never dreamed of putting my daughter’s fiance’s name with second-degree murder,” Shianne’s father, James Shelton told News Channel 11.
Easter, who was arrested March 9 after a grand jury presentment, is also the father of Shianne Shelton’s 4-year-old son, David.
The potential double loss in little David’s life is the result of a Tennessee law permitting second-degree murder charges when an investigation can prove who provided a fatal overdose victim with fentanyl, or a drug containing it. The charges can be placed regardless of whether the person providing the drugs knew they contained fentanyl.
Proponents say the law may eventually help drive down the spiking numbers of fatal overdoses linked to the synthetic opioid that’s about 100 times stronger than morphine.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), more than a dozen people have died this year from a drug overdose in Sullivan County, where Shianne Shelton lived. Last year, the county saw almost 60 overdose deaths.
The TBI’s High-Intensity drug trafficking area drug-related death task force has found that a third of those overdoses are caused by fentanyl.
Law enforcement treats those deaths as homicides when they investigate with prosecutors building cases for second-degree murder charges because those numbers represent people.
“[Shianne] was a very sweet person. I don’t think she had an enemy in the world,” her father recalled James. “He was her world. She was a very caring mother.”
Both James Shelton and Shianne’s younger sister Savannah are now raising her son.
“He looks so much like her. Like, just look in his eyes. You just see her,” Savannah Shelton said of her nephew. “So that was super hard for a while.”
Shianne’s family wasn’t aware of her drug use, but they do know that she didn’t want to die.
“Whether they were partying or whether it’s a way that people deal with their everyday life, do whatever they have to do to numb their pain,” said James. “They didn’t intend to die.”
While Shianne and Isaiah’s family are thankful prosecutors are pushing for murder charges, the wheels of justice turning won’t turn back time.
“I don’t have my daughter. David doesn’t have his mother. Nothing’s going to bring that back,” James Shelton said. “It’s real. And it does kill, you know, destroy your life. Your family’s life.”
Fentanyl killed part of me
“Fentanyl didn’t just kill my son, it killed a part of me,” said Angela Canter, sitting on the porch of her home in Piney Flats where she found her 23-year-old son, Isaiah Coleman, dead from an overdose in September. “I thought he was safe. And when I got up to go to work, I came out here on the porch and that’s when I felt he was gone. His friend was barely hanging on to life.”
Coleman went out with friends for the evening to shoot pool and celebrate getting a raise at work.
“It doesn’t matter what color. It doesn’t matter what race, gender, how old you are, how young you are, if you’re a drug addict or if you’re just simply out here just having a good time, it can take your life in an instant,” Canter said.
TBI later confirmed an overdose of fentanyl and cocaine claimed Isaiah’s life, devastating everyone who loved him, especially his 2-year-old son, Malachi.
“My son was an amazing soul. He had an old soul, loving… He would give the shirt off his back, he would save anyone. And if this interview will save another life, by all means, that’s the whole reason for doing this is to bring awareness of what’s happening,” Canter said.
“Isaiah was an amazing, loving father, son, brother, and grandson. Fentanyl doesn’t just take a life. It takes a part of everyone that loses a loved one.”
The same day charges against Easter were announced, authorities charged Tyrique Shahmir Brown with second-degree murder and other charges in relation to Isaiah’s death, his friend’s non-fatal overdose, and a string of non-fatal overdoses in Johnson City the night before Isaiah died.
“I pray for the drug dealers out here, that’s doing this because they have children also. They have mothers, they have fathers, and they’re going to be locked up but justice needs to be served and people need to be aware,” Canter said.
Easter and Andrew Landon Jackson were charged with second-degree murder and one count of delivery of Schedule II in 24-year-old Shelton’s death last July.
Law enforcement and prosecutors say getting to the point of pressing charges takes time and can be daunting for these families that are already grieving.