A Tulsa County judge on Thursday imposed a 30-year prison sentence against a man after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with a heroin sale last year to a teenager who later overdosed.
Taylor Ryan Rogers, 31, originally faced a first-degree felony murder charge in the March 21, 2018, death of 19-year-old Jillian Searle, who overdosed after using heroin. But in a hearing Thursday morning, the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office announced they reached a plea agreement in which Rogers would plead guilty to second-degree murder.
District Judge Sharon Holmes sentenced Rogers to 30 years in prison and 10 years of probation after his release, which will be under the supervision of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. The term will run concurrent with a 30-year sentence Rogers received in an unrelated first-degree burglary case, as well as with the revocation of a 10-year suspended sentence for a 2015 burglary conviction in Cherokee County.
“We’ve got a lot of people who are addicted to drugs out there and we have people who are preying on them, like Mr. Rogers,” District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said after Rogers’ sentencing. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office also participated in Rogers’ prosecution, as the agency’s Safe Oklahoma Grant program provided financial resources for Tulsa police to investigate the incident.
“He got a benefit for this. He got money in exchange for the heroin he delivered that resulted in the death of another human being. And we’re not gonna stand for that,” Kunzweiler said. He said Tulsa police narcotics officer Andy Dawson, the lead investigator in the case, helped law enforcement better direct its attention to the culpability of dealers such as Rogers in overdose fatalities.
Distribution of a controlled substance is among a list of felony crimes that can support the filing of a first-degree felony murder charge. The second-degree murder charge alleged Rogers’ actions showed “reckless disregard” for Searle’s life.
Assistant Public Defender Stuart Southerland previously contested the decision to prosecute his client under the felony-murder doctrine. He acknowledged in a court filing that Rogers handled the money used to pay for the heroin but contended he “only had possession of the heroin for mere moments” before he, Searle and two others divided the purchase among themselves.
“Jillian was a beautiful, sweet, young, loving and charismatic young lady,” Diane Searle, Jillian Searle’s mother, said in a victim impact statement. “We now celebrate her birthday with balloons in a park.”
Court documents indicate Diane Searle testified at a preliminary hearing about Jillian Searle’s struggle with heroin addiction, which Diane Searle said then was enough of an issue for her to keep Narcan on hand in their house. Diane Searle said Thursday that she was not yet ready to forgive Rogers for what she called “peddling poison for profit,” ruining her daughter’s dreams of becoming a makeup artist and hairstylist.
“We all know drugs is an epidemic in our community, and we know that heroin and fentanyl are at the forefront of that,” Kunzweiler said. “And so we’re gonna try and take down these drug dealers a different way if we can.”