ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Two Jacksonville men are accused of first-degree murder in connection with two fentanyl overdose deaths in St. Johns County, State Attorney R.J. Larizza announced Thursday.
Reco Bennefield, 42, and Brian Pitt, 36, were indicted Wednesday on charges of first-degree murder by unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, commonly referred to as drug-induced murder. Larizza said the substance involved in their deaths was fentanyl.
Larizza said the evidence shows that Bennefield was the supplier and distributor of the drugs and Pitt was one of the people who helped him sell the fentanyl to two St. Johns County men who died from overdoses in 2017 and 2019.
“We hope that these charges will send a message to folks that selling drugs that result in overdoses to the individual...that the consequences are certainly much more severe than the rewards that they might consider,” Larizza said during a Thursday press conference in St. Augustine.
Larizza said overdose deaths continue to be an issue in the Seventh Circuit which covers Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties.
Larizza said that there has been an increase in the number of drug-induced murder charges brought against suspected drug dealers in recent years in response to the opioid epidemic. He said his office is prosecuting at least 10 people accused of similar crimes in neighboring counties.
In July, St. Johns County resident Oscar Novo was accused of selling fentanyl that led to a man’s overdose death in 2017. He was arrested and charged with murder. The Sheriff’s Office said then it was the first time it had used provisions of a new state law to charge a drug dealer with murder for causing the death of a customer.
Murder charges filed in 2017 in Clay County against Trumaine Muller in the overdose death of Ariell Jade Brundige -- prior to the new state law -- were dropped and were replaced by federal charges. In Jacksonville, Deonte Wadley was charged in March with murder in the August 2018 overdose death of Timothy Sexton.
St. Johns County Sherrif David Shoar called the ongoing opioid epidemic another chapter in an evolving human tragedy.
Shoar said the men who died from overdoses lived with their parents and one of them developed a dependency due to health issues.
“In one case, the mother of one of the victims died two days later after seeing her son die,” Shoar said. “These are tragic, tragic cases that can be avoided.”
Bennefield was arrested in October during a raid of his East Arlington home. Inside the home on Arrowleaf Lane, investigators found methamphetamine, firearms and marijuana plants, according to an arrest report from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
“The message for the drug dealers is this: You deal drugs and people die because of those drugs we are going to put you in jail for murder, or we are going to try,” Shoar said.
Both Pitt and Bennefield are being held without bond.