Super said to have sold fatal smack faces life

The East Village building, at 423 E. 12th St., where the alleged dealer and victim both lived. Photos by Gerard Flynn

BY GERARD FLYNN | Until early last month, Daniel Jones was the superintendent of a building on E. 12th St. and First Ave. Today, he’s awaiting trial in jail, charged with selling heroin that killed his neighbor.

Jones is incarcerated at the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center, facing life behind bars for selling a brand of “Gorilla” heroin that resulted in the death last November of Robert Martin Hill, who lived in the same building, 423 E. 12th St., federal prosecutors allege.

The 54-year-old victim was transitioning to a new gender when he was found in his apartment unconscious from an opioid overdose, which brought in the police after he died in a city hospital a week later. In Hill’s pants pocket, his wife found four glassine bags stamped with the “Gorilla” brand, which she turned over to police. Investigating detectives were led to Jones by phone records, and subsequently set the suspected heroin dealer up in a drug buy-and-bust down the street from the building.

Court documents show that, in March, Jones not only sold 10 bags of heroin to an undercover narcotics cop, but followed a brief conversation about the deceased’s transgender status with an incriminating and candid admission — that he was the source of the brand of heroin that killed Hill.

“Rob was getting the Gorilla from me,” he allegedly told the narc, thus linking Jones with the victim’s death and bringing an additional charge similar to culpable homicide and a possible life sentence.

“I’m the one who brings that s— up here,” Jones added, unaware that a hidden camera was capturing everything. “The Gorilla’s the same one as the Pink,” meaning that despite the different brands, the heroin was from the same source.

As for Jones’s stint as a super, one tenant said, “He was a good superintendent. He was here for a little over a year.”

Daniel Jones was the building’s super for about one year.

The charge of “drug-induced homicide” harkens back to the stiff mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines of the Reagan administration, which announced a “War on Drugs” in 1982. The concept continues but it’s not working, according to Nora Demleitner, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law.

A one-time consideration by the Obama administration for a Supreme Court justice pick, Demleitner told The Villager that locking dealers up for someone’s accidental death is a “terrible” policy.” She called it utterly random, comparing it to a game of Russian roulette rather than a principled assessment of responsibility.

“These types of charges aren’t morally justifiable because the murder label doesn’t reflect the culpability at issue,” she said.

On the other hand, the knowing sale of contaminated drugs is a separate moral issue, she said.

As to addressing drug use — and the more recent surge of opioid and heroin use, in particular — she prefers a public-health approach, and says stiff penalties since the 1980s haven’t shown desired results.

“The claim that such prosecutions will ‘combat the epidemic of lethal opioids’ is blatantly false,” she said.

Yes, the prospect of facing a life sentence may scare off a drug dealer who witnesses an opiate overdose, for example, she said. But if the feds are just randomly choosing this alleged dealer to get at a higher-up, it may not work — despite the heavy investment of time because the dealer may not be in the know.

The current opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 victims since 2000, nearly four times the number of G.I.’s killed in the Vietnam War, and with many users switching to heroin over the past decade since prescription opioids have become more tightly regulated. The increased spotlight on this national crisis, the law professor said, has made it a political issue.

“Prosecutors, after all, are elected and may feel the need to respond to public pressure,” she said, “especially if they believe that a criminal justice response is the right approach to the drug epidemic.”

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