Little Rock man pleads guilty in fentanyl death, could get life sentence

A Little Rock man is facing a possible life sentence after pleading guilty in federal court Monday to a charge of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death.

Russell Stacks, 49, was originally indicted on charges of methamphetamine and fentanyl distribution and firearm violations July 6, 2021. In a superseding indictment handed up by a federal grand jury on April 5, 2022, the charge of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death was added for Stacks and co-defendant Elmer Bell, 56, of Little Rock. Bell pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death and is currently in federal custody awaiting sentencing.

The added count stemmed from the April 20, 2021, death of a 29-year-old Bryant woman after she overdosed on fentanyl. Investigators with the FBI and the Bryant Police Department discovered text messages on the woman's cell phone to a cell phone belonging to Stacks asking how much it would cost to purchase a gram of fentanyl. A reply indicated the price would be $30 for one-tenth of a gram of the drug.

In court on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Givens outlined for U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky the route taken by the fentanyl that killed the victim, referred to as "E.A." in court papers and during the hearing.

"On April 19, 2021, co-defendant Elmer Bell distributed a quantity of fentanyl to the defendant, Russell Stacks," Givens said. "Stacks, in turn, distributed that same fentanyl a few minutes later to a female with the initials E.A. At approximately 3:20 a.m. on April 20, 2021, Bryant police found E.A. deceased from a drug overdose at her home."

Givens said an autopsy determined that E.A. had died from fentanyl and methamphetamine intoxication, and added that the report indicated the level of fentanyl alone in her system would have been consistent with a lethal dose of the drug.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is some 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and is used medically to treat severe pain. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, as little as two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal depending on a person's body size, tolerance and past usage. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is often used to mix with other drugs to increase the potency, often with fatal results.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths between April 2020 and April 2021 were estimated to be just over 100,000 people, an increase of more than 22,000 over the previous 12-month period.

Givens outlined a number of text messages and phone calls between E.A. and Stacks and between Stacks and Bell on April 19, 2021 beginning at 6:28 p.m. with a text from E.A. to Stacks asking, "Can you get some fent?"

"At 6:41, Stacks responded, 'yeah,' and the two proceeded to discuss amounts and prices," Givens said. The prosecutor said E.A. and Stacks then spoke over the phone three times between 9:49 p.m. and 10:19 p.m., after which he said records showed Stacks then talked three times with Bell over the next 40 minutes.

"Each time no more than two minutes after Stacks spoke with E.A.," Givens said.

Givens said Stacks obtained approximately three grams of fentanyl that he sold to E.A. from Bell, whom Givens said met with Stacks at a gas station located at Kanis and John Barrow roads in Little Rock, where he said Stacks bought a quantity of fentanyl from Bell for $550.

"After obtaining the fentanyl, Stacks immediately went across the street to a Taco Bell restaurant where E.A. and two friends were waiting," Givens said. "Stacks had provided fentanyl to E.A. and her friends for approximately $900 ... Approximately four hours after obtaining the fentanyl from Stacks, E.A. died of a fentanyl overdose."

"Did you listen carefully to what he had to say?" Rudofsky asked Stacks after Givens concluded. "Is everything he said 100% accurate?"

"Yes sir," Stacks responded.

"Are there any, even small inaccuracies?" Rudofsky asked. "If there are, now would be the time to tell me."

"I didn't cite anything," Stacks replied.

"I want to make sure that you agree that you knew you were selling fentanyl to the victim in this case," Rudofsky then said, after cautioning Stacks to confer with his attorney, Christophe Tarver of the Federal Public Defenders Office in Little Rock, before answering. "So, my question is, did you know?"

"Yes sir," Stacks said.

After accepting a guilty plea from Stacks, Rudofsky explained the process for sentencing, including compilation of a pre-sentencing report by the U.S. Probation office, after which a sentencing date will be set.

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