A 31-year-old probationer accused of supplying fentanyl to a Winchester man who died after ingesting the synthetic opioid pleaded not guilty Friday to second-degree murder.
Justin Lee Kail of Winchester was arrested in February following a monthslong investigation by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department into the death of 27-year-old Ernie Gutierrez.
Kail was arraigned before Superior Court Judge Elaine Kiefer, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for June 3 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta and left the defendant’s bail set at $1 million. He was being held at the nearby Byrd Detention Center.
Specific details regarding how Kail and the victim knew one another and the circumstances behind the deadly ingestion were not provided.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Ryan Marcuse said Gutierrez was found dead from fentanyl poisoning at a property in the 3000 block of Benton Street on the evening of Aug. 24, 2021.
Kail is among 15 people who have been charged countywide with murder over the last 13 months in connection with a fentanyl-related death.
The synthetic drug is manufactured in foreign labs, and according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, is smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s known to be 80-100 times more potent than morphine and is a popular additive, mixed into any number of narcotics and pharmaceuticals.
Sheriff Chad Bianco said there were about 500 fentanyl-induced deaths countywide last year, which represents a 250-fold increase from 2016, when only two such fatalities were documented.
According to court records, Kail has prior misdemeanor convictions for possession of drug paraphernalia and identity theft