Fighting Fentanyl in California: Changing the Prosecution Playbook

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often packaged to look like other prescription drugs, has destroyed lives and devastated families who have lost loved ones to fentanyl-related overdoses.

Matt Capelouto, who lost his 20-year-old daughter to a fentanyl overdose in 2019 just two days before Christmas, worked to change the way prosecutors handled death cases involving the opioid.

KTLA’s Karen Wynter reports on the opioid crisis in part three of the “Fighting Fentanyl” series.

A sophomore at Arizona State University, Alexandra Capelouto, majored in sociology. She was also an aspiring artist and talented poet, her parents said.

Alexandra Capelouto died of a fentanyl overdose in December 2019.

Her storybook life was cut short in 2019, after the 20-year-old bought what she thought were oxycodone pills on Snapchat.

The pills turned out to be counterfeits containing five times the lethal amount of fentanyl.

Alexandra’s mother, Christine, discovered her dead in the bedroom of their Temecula home the next morning.

“This is a game changer, life will never be the same again. For sure,” Capelouto told KTLA.

The Riverside County coroner ruled that Alexandra’s death was an accidental overdose, but her father disagreed. He believed her death was murder because she was never killed by the drugs she used.

It was then that Capelouto relentlessly embarked on a mission that would upend Riverside County’s criminal justice system and quickly attract the attention of the county attorney.

“You know, his question sort of haunted me. ‘Why isn’t it murder? Why don’t the district attorney’s office and law enforcement in Riverside County take it that way? It should be murder,” DA Hestrin said of a letter he received from Alexandra’s father.

Capelouto told KTLA that he and Hestrin met after the tragedy, shared his story with the prosecutor, and agreed that Alexandra’s death was murder.

“He not only listened, he acted,” Capelouto said.

Since 2021, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted approximately 20 fentanyl death cases, including 15 with murder charges. Five others are federal death cases, not considered murders, but it is an equivalent federal offense.

Other jurisdictions, like San Bernardino and Orange counties, have taken notice, with drug traffickers now facing possible murder charges if someone dies from fentanyl poisoning.

“In my daughter’s short 20-year life, she has taught me so much more in the past two and a half years than I have ever taught her,” Capelouto said.

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