11/15/06 — Duplin woman enters plea after giving friend lethal dose of prescription drugs

View Archive

Duplin woman enters plea after giving friend lethal dose of prescription drugs

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on November 15, 2006 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- A Duplin County woman pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter Tuesday in a case in which she provided a friend a fatal amount of painkillers.

Joan Celeste Fussell, 43, was sentenced to a minimum of 16 months and a maximum of 20 months in the July 2005 death of Glenda Lee, 54. The sentence was suspended for three years, and Ms. Fussell was placed under three years probation.

She had no prior criminal record.

Ms. Fussell pleaded guilty to providing the drug fentanyl to Mrs. Lee in an amount sufficient to cause her death.

According to evidence presented by prosecutors, Ms. Fussell went to Mrs. Lee's residence on July 17, 2005. Mrs. Lee had been suffering from migraine headaches and at the time was under a doctor's care.

Ms. Fussell had been prescribed the drug Actiq, a form of fentanyl, by a physician for an undisclosed medical problem. When she visited Mrs. Lee, she gave her several of the drug "lollipops" to help ease the pain from her headaches. She did not have authorization from a physician, but the two women had known each other since 1999 and had become close friends, lawyers said.

Mrs. Lee's death was determined to be the result of fentanyl toxicity, investigators testified.

During her testimony, Ms. Fussell said she knew at the time that she should not have given Mrs. Lee drugs from her prescription, but that she simply wanted to help a suffering friend.

During the sentencing, Mrs. Lee's husband, Brentwood Lee, told the court he had forgiven Ms. Fussell and that he did not want her to receive an active prison sentence.

Prosecutors agreed.

"This was a difficult case, in light of the circumstances surrounding the death of Glenda Lee. The court commented that this was a case of killing someone with kindness," Duplin District Dewey Hudson said. "However, although there was no evidence of malice, there did exist sufficient evidence of thoughtless disregard for the consequences of providing fentanyl to Mrs. Lee.

"A plea of involuntary manslaughter should send a message to the community that one who is prescribed drugs by a physician should not under any circumstances provide those drugs to another individual."