A probationer accused of supplying a deadly dose of fentanyl to a 29-year-old Lake Mathews man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder.
John Frederick Sandoval, 28, of Jurupa Valley was arrested at the end of August following a nearly four-month-long Riverside County Sheriff’s Department investigation into the death of Gorge Sandoval, a possible but unconfirmed relative of the defendant.
John Sandoval was arraigned before Superior Court Judge Emma Smith, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for Nov. 2 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
The defendant is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail.
According to sheriff’s Sgt. Sean Liebrand, on the morning of April 7, patrol deputies and paramedics were called to the victim’s residence in the 22000 block of Piedras Road, near Gavilan Road, to investigate reports of an unconscious man.
Deputies attempted life-saving measures on Gorge Sandoval until paramedics arrived and continued to try to resuscitate him, but they were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“The coroner’s bureau later determined that Gorge died as a result of fentanyl poisoning, and the case was assumed by the sheriff’s Overdose Investigations & Narcotics Unit,” Liebrand said. “As a result of their efforts, the suspect was identified as John Sandoval.”
A search warrant was obtained and served in early June at the convicted felon’s residence in the 8400 block of Saddle Creek Drive, where “deputies seized two kilos of suspected fentanyl,” the sergeant said.
He said Sandoval was booked into jail on drug-related charges, not for murder, as the investigation was incomplete. The defendant pleaded guilty on June 20 to two counts of possession of controlled substances for sale, as well as being a narcotic addict in possession of a firearm and possession of an assault rifle.
Sandoval was sentenced to two years’ felony probation.
By the end of August, detectives had gathered sufficient evidence to seek a murder charge against him, and the District Attorney’s Office filed a new criminal complaint.
In addition to the recent conviction, Sandoval also has a prior misdemeanor conviction for driving under the influence.
Since February 2021, roughly two dozen individuals countywide have been charged with murder in connection with fentanyl poisonings. In August, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office won its first second-degree murder conviction against a fentanyl dealer, Vicente David Romero, who provided a fatal dose of the synthetic opioid to a 26-year-old Temecula woman in 2020.
Romero is due for sentencing next month.
According to public safety officials, there were 503 confirmed fentanyl-related fatalities countywide last year, compared to just under 400 in 2021, a 200-fold increase from 2016, when there were only two.
Fentanyl is manufactured in overseas labs, principally in China, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which says the substance is smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border by cartels. Fentanyl is 80-100 times more potent than morphine and can be mixed into any number of street narcotics and prescription drugs, without a user knowing what he or she is consuming. Ingestion of only two milligrams can be fatal.
Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans between 18 and 45 years old.