Two Beaver County families are upset about what they call a soft-on-crime sentence proposed for the drug dealer who pleaded guilty in both of their sons’ deaths.
Twenty-five-year-old Lucas Ropon pleaded guilty to two counts of drug delivery resulting in death. Both counts carry a maximum sentence of up to 80 years in prison, but in a plea deal, he could get back out on the street in 4.5 years.
“I just feel like 4.5 is a slap on the wrist. The time definitely does not fit the crime,” said Owen Martin, father of one of the young men killed.
The pain of losing a child
Twenty-one-year-old Jordan Martin’s room at his parent’s home in Ambridge is still mostly untouched from the day before he died in June of 2021.
The room is full of pictures from over the years and mementos from his high school days as a star football player at Quaker Valley. Even his baby blanket is draped over the side of his bed.
His mom, April Martin, tells Channel 11 it comforts her to sit in Jordan’s room.
“This is where I feel Jordan the most. I come up here a lot,” she said while sitting in a chair next to his bed.
But for Jordan’s dad, it’s painful.
“It brings back too much hurt. It just makes me think about him not coming home,” Owen Martin said.
After graduating from Quaker Valley, Jordan went on to play football in college for a while but left before graduating. He was working at Amazon and just started a business with his dad flipping houses.
“He used to call me three times a day while I was at work. Then he’d call me on his way home. I miss those calls,” Owen said. “Every day, I miss him. It’s hard. It’s very hard not to have him in my life.”
One pill can kill
Jordan’s family says he had much to live for, but one pill changed it all.
“The last time I saw him, ... they told us they were going to take him to the hospital,” April said, fighting back tears. “They were giving him chest compressions while they were rolling him into the ambulance.”
That image haunts their memory every day.
It was Father’s Day 2021. Jordan and his girlfriend went to their friend Lucas Ropon’s house to hang out.
Ropon knew Jordan’s girlfriend from high school and was a budding rapper who goes by the name “Ivy League Luke.” One YouTube video posted online shows him rapping about drugs and making money.
Ropon has admitted in court that on that night in June, he sold Jordan the deadly pill that took his life.
“I believe he asked for a Percocet,” Jordan’s mom said. “I understand that’s still not OK, but if he would have gotten that, he’d still be here.”
But it wasn’t Percocet, it was fentanyl. Just one pill of the powerful synthetic opioid is enough to kill.
And that is exactly what it did to Jordan. The next morning, Jordan’s girlfriend frantically called his parents.
“She woke us up and said, ‘We can’t get Jordan to wake up! We can’t get Jordan to wake up!’ and I was like, ‘What do you mean you can’t get him to wake up?’” she said.
They rushed to Ropon’s house in New Brighton about 15 minutes away, but it was too late.
Two deaths in two months
Not long before Jordan’s death, 19-year-old Nathan Smith of New Brighton died of fentanyl poisoning, also after buying a pill from Ropon.
At a pre-sentencing hearing in June, both families say they were stunned to hear Ropon tell the judge he knew the pill he sold Jordan was fentanyl. He admitted he did it even though those same pills caused Nathan’s death less than two months earlier.
“He continued selling and ended another man’s life. Two families have been destroyed,” Jennifer Schultz, Nathan’s mom said. “That is evil. That is despicable. He blatantly showed he had no regard to human life.”
Both Schultz and the Martin’s are furious that the Beaver County district attorney is not recommending more jail time for Ropon.
“Four-and-a-half to nine years for both deaths is completely insulting,” Schultz said angrily.
Ropon was charged with nine counts, including multiple felonies, in the two cases. Among the charges were possession of a firearm with the serial number altered and two counts of drug delivery resulting in death, or DRDD.
DDRD calls for up to 40 years in prison for each count.
In a plea deal, Ropon pleaded guilty to the two counts of DDRD. In exchange, all the other charges were dropped, and the Beaver County prosecutor’s office agreed to recommend a total of 4.5 to 10 years in jail for both cases.
“Now when he’s taking a plea, he’s sorry and he’s in the courtroom crying, but he wasn’t doing that in the whole month after he gave Nathan the pill,” April Martin said.
With Ropon out on bond, 11 Investigates wanted to hear what he has to say about the charges and fentanyl deaths.
We knocked on the door of his home in New Brighton. He answered but declined to talk with us.
“Absolutely not,” Ropon said and closed the door.
Prosecutor defends recommendation
Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier agreed to sit down with 11 Investigates to talk about the sentencing in DDRD cases.
He defended his prosecutor Bart Wischnowski’s sentencing recommendation in the Martin and Smith cases, saying it follows state sentencing guidelines.
LOZIER: The guidelines in this case, under the Pennsylvania law, the standard starting point is 60 months, or 5 years.
MORESCHI: But the recommendation here is 4.5. Why is it less?
LOZIER: In reality, I can tell you, those guidelines are several years old, and what we try do is remain consistent in Beaver County and consistent across the commonwealth. In reality, the average sentence for average cases of drug delivery resulting in death are well below the 60 months.
Lozier says the average sentence for a DDRD case in Beaver County is 4.5 years, which is about the same for each of these cases: 4.5 to 9 years in the Smith case and 4.5 to 10 years in the Martin case.
Lozier gave 11 Investigates a chart showing 26 DDRD cases his office has prosecuted in the past six years. It showed a variety of sentences, including one as low as 6 to12 months. However, the chart also displayed much higher sentences, including 8 to 16 years in one case and 12 to 24 years in another.
MORESCHI: Why not tougher on this sentence?
LOZIER: I don’t want to take one case and make the outcome different from others without a good reason.
MORESCHI: What’s the difference with something that gets 12 to 24 or 8 to 16 versus 4.5 to 9?
LOZIER: Many of the drug delivery resulting in death cases, we can’t prove the factors of drug delivery resulting in death. In many cases, you can establish a dealer provided the drug to someone who died. But if their drug toxicology shows that there were other drugs in their system, not just fentanyl, then you can’t prove that one drug provided by that one dealer caused the death.
That appears to be the situation in Nathan’s case. His death certificate shows he died by the combined poisoning of fentanyl and hydrocodone.
However, 11 Investigates asked Lozier about other aggravating factors, especially in Jordan Martin’s case, that could increase the punishment.
MORESCHI: Mr. Ropon continued to sell these pills after one person already died. Those are factors that make it even worse, don’t you think?
LOZIER: Again, we took all that into account in our recommendation to the court.
Families question fairness
Still, the families say it’s especially frustrating to them that Ropon pleaded guilty in two deaths here, not just one, but the prosecution recommended his sentences be served concurrently, essentially cutting the punishment in half.
Lozier said for sentencing, they consider a number of factors, including the age of the offender, prior record and relationship to the victims.
“The recommendation to the court is that they are concurrent, not consecutive, because of the age of the offender. He has no prior record whatsoever. He’s never been convicted of any prior offense, and we also look at the relationship,” Lozier said.
The chief prosecutor says applying those factors helps to create consistency and predictability for the defendant when it comes to punishment.
LOZIER: I don’t want anyone to say, ‘How come this person got this and this person got this?’ I want to be consistent.
MORESCHI: Is this fair, though?
LOZIER: I think fairness is open to the eyes of whoever is looking at the case. I think the best thing we can do as flawed humans, flawed prosecutors, is make sure we take into account all the factors and make sure we are treating all the defendants and all the victims equally.
But the families say that makes them feel like the prosecutor cares more about the defendant than the victims’ families.
“You’re telling me you have to worry about his well-being,” Owen Martin said, choking up. “He could get of jail and have a life still. I have to live the rest of my life without my son. And he doesn’t have a life now.”
Ropon’s sentencing will be this Wednesday, Aug. 17. The Martin and Smith families say they will both be there to read victim impact statements and hope the judge will reject the prosecution’s recommendation and issue a tougher sentence. Channel 11′s Angie Moreschi will be there, too, and will have an update.
WATCH Channel 11 News starting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday to find out what happens.
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