After more than a week of testimony, a jury deliberated for less than two hours Thursday before delivering a guilty verdict into whether a former Los Angeles Angels staffer was responsible for the 2019 death of one of the team’s pitchers, Tyler Skaggs.
Eric Kay, former communications director for the Los Angeles Angels, was found guilty on both counts of drug conspiracy and drug distribution in relation to the 2019 death of the Angels pitcher.
Kay now faces up to life in prison. His sentencing is expected to be held on June 28 at 10 a.m.
Skaggs family said Thursday they were grateful for the verdict and relieved justice was served.
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Skaggs was found dead inside his Southlake hotel room on July 1, 2019, after the team traveled from Los Angeles before the start of what was supposed to be a four-game series against the Texas Rangers.
Prosecutors said Kay provided Skaggs with the drugs that caused his death. Both Kay and Skaggs experienced opioid addictions when Skaggs died, according to testimony. A coroner’s report said Skaggs had choked to death on his vomit with a toxic mix of alcohol and the drugs fentanyl and oxycodone in his system.
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Rusty Hardin, the attorney for Skaggs family, said Thursday they plan to also hold the team accountable for what happened and that they plan to pursue civil cases against the Angels.
“The trial showed Eric Kay’s drug trafficking was known to numerous people in the Angels organization, and it resulted in the tragic and unnecessary death of one of their most popular players. We have no doubt that the Angels knew what Eric Kay was doing, and the team is morally and legally responsible for his conduct. In the upcoming civil cases, we are looking forward to holding the team accountable," Hardin said. "While this verdict is the beginning of seeing justice served, it is a painful reminder of a very sad day in the life of Tyler’s family. It is obviously a bad day for the Angels, who have given a black eye to our National Pastime. I am confident that Major League Baseball will give this important issue the attention and corrective measures it deserves.”
Upon learning of the verdict, Angels President John Carpino released the following statement:
"On behalf of the entire Angels organization, we are saddened by the devastating heartache that surrounds this tragedy, especially for the Skaggs family. Our compassion goes out to all families and individuals that have been impacted. The players’ testimony was incredibly difficult for our organization to hear, and it is a reminder that too often drug use and addiction are hidden away. From the moment we learned of Tyler’s death, our focus has been to fully understand the circumstances that led to this tragedy. We are thankful that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have taken the important step to update their drug policies for players using opioids so that they can receive help."
On Thursday, prosecutors and Kay’s defense attorneys were allowed 45 minutes each for their closing arguments before the case was handed to the jury. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Beran said Thursday, the case “is about one person.”
“One person gave Tyler Skaggs pills,” Beran said, referring to Kay.
Beran pointed to phone records and Venmo transactions which were presented as part of the government’s evidence of alleged conspiracy, suggesting Kay had “customers” who were given drugs without prescriptions. Beran also referred to a text message conversation between Kay and Skaggs on June 30, 2019 when Kay asked him “how many?” In return, Skaggs answered “Just a few … like five.”
Later that day, a text message conversation between the two included Skaggs telling Kay his room number at the Southlake hotel and to “come up.”
“Evidence shows Eric Kay was his [Skaggs] drug dealer,” Beran said Thursday, reminding the jury witnesses throughout the trial have testified Kay and Skaggs were not friends outside of the team setting. Four major league players testified this week saying they have received oxycodone pills from Kay. Their evidence did not show Skaggs had any other sources for drugs, she added.
Michael Molfetta, one of Kay’s defense attorneys, argued prosecutors were “misrepresenting facts” and that the case had been “reverse engineered.”
“The government is asking you to make a bunch of assumptions,” Molfetta told jurors Thursday. “He’s [Kay] guilty because we [prosecutors] say so. That’s it. Nothing to it.”
Molfetta has argued there is insufficient evidence tying Kay to Skaggs’ death. He also pointed to the text messages exchanged between Kay and Skaggs on June 30, 2019 suggesting it was not proof of a drug deal. Where Skaggs got the pills has not been proven, he said.
“Find evidence that [Kay] gave him [Skaggs] the pills that night,” he said Thursday. “The government is trying to get you to look anywhere but the facts.”
Closing arguments ended before noon Thursday. The jury was handed the case and deliberated for about an hour and a half before delivering their verdict.
Reagan Wynn, another defense attorney for Kay, said they were disappointed in the verdict.
"We thought there were many reasons to doubt the government’s case. This is a tragedy all the way around. Eric Kay is getting ready to do minimum 20 years in federal penitentiary and it goes up from there. Tyler Skaggs is gone," Wynn said. "It’s a tragedy. There’s no winners in any of this."