Mobile County Man Sentenced to Life in Overdose Death Case

2 mins read
FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

MOBILE, AL – A Mobile man has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in a major drug conspiracy and distribution of fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin, including his actions resulting in an overdose death. 

William Grant Owens, also known as “Whip,” 55, was sentenced on June 30, 2022 to life after being convicted by a federal jury in March of drug crimes and his involvement with a drug trafficking organization. The jury found that Owens’s participation in the conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and possession of fentanyl with the intent to distribute caused the death of Kelsey Johnston.  Owens was also convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, and seven counts of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute. The convictions followed a five-day trial before United States District Judge Terry F. Moorer.

The evidence presented at trial showed that the Crossley Hills drug trafficking organization (“DTO”), of which Owens was a member, operated in Mobile County, and elsewhere, distributing various controlled substances, including heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, Xanax, oxycodone, and oxymorphone to customers along the Gulf coast. Relying on regional and local sources of supply to acquire controlled substances for its distribution, the Crossley Hills DTO distributed a substantial amount of the heroin in Mobile County, Alabama. These heroin sales led to numerous overdoses resulting in hospitalizations and deaths, including that of Kelsey Johnston on October 11, 2018.

Testimony established that Owens, with the desire to have sex with Johnston, directed Jessica “Allie” Tubb, another member of the drug trafficking organization, to obtain fentanyl and bring it to him on October 11, 2018, at the Rode Way Inn, in Tillman’s Corner. Owens prepared the fentanyl on a spoon and had Tubb inject Ms. Johnston. Almost instantly, Ms. Johnston lost consciousness and was struggling to breathe. Dr. Cameron Snider, a Forensic Pathologist with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, testified that fentanyl attacks the lungs causing them to fill with fluid and impairs the respiratory system, which ultimately caused Ms. Johnston’s death in this case. 

Further testimony showed that neither Owens nor Tubb sought any medical assistance for Johnston and that they ultimately left her in the hotel room after she overdosed at approximately 3:00 to 4:00 in the morning. Johnston’s body was found the next morning at approximately 11:00 when housekeeping personnel came in to clean the room.

The jury also heard testimony that Owens physically abused individuals selling controlled substances on his behalf and that he would withhold providing heroin and fentanyl to addicts who were going through severe withdrawals until they performed sexual acts on him and/or other individuals. 

Owens has no opportunity for parole as parole has been abolished in the federal judicial system.
          
U.S. Attorney Sean P. Costello said, “Drug dealers who choose to distribute their poison in our communities will find a united front of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who are dedicated to their aggressive investigation and prosecution. The coordination and commitment of the multiple agencies who investigated the case, and the skill of the prosecutors who brought justice in court, are a credit to those who stand with us against these criminals.”
    
The investigation and prosecution of this case was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF. 

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Department of Homeland Security; Homeland Security Investigations; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Mobile Police Department; and the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office.  The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Baldwin County Drug Task Force, and the Saraland Police Department also provided key investigative support to the investigation.  

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys George F. May and Luis F. Peral, Lead OCDETF Attorney.