WEST CHESTER —In the end, Ricky Lowe’s own words helped seal his fate.
On Friday, a Common Pleas Court judge sentenced Lowe to a state prison term of 14 to 32 years, believed to be among the longest terms ever set for a defendant charged with an episode in which someone sells an addict the dose of heroin or fentanyl that results in their fatal overdosing.
After listening to Lowe offer his apologies to the family of 32-year-old Alanna “Lana” Holt, who was found unconscious in her Main Line bedroom after Lowe allegedly dropped off a quantity of super-lethal 3-methyl fentanyl in a mailbox outside her parent’s home and later died, Judge Patrick Carmody told him he did not believe his expression of remorse.
Instead, the judge pointed to a tape-recorded conversation that Lowe had with an unidentified man from Philadelphia in which the two openly discussed how to conduct Lowe’s on-going drug trafficking business from Chester County Prison. And he also noted that Lowe’s own behavior in the wake of Holt’s death proved he felt little concern about the peril in which he placed her, and others he sold drugs to.
The prison conversation — in which there is person-to-person discussion between Lowe and the other party of collecting drug money from a street dealer and concern about how another person was “finessing” drug shipments he owed money for — took place on April 16, just five weeks after Lowe was convicted by a jury on all charges.
A transcript of the tape was attached to a memo in which the two prosecutors in the case, Assistant District Attorney Vincent Cocco and Kaitlyn Macauley, asked the judge to sentence Lowe to 17 to 35 years in prison.
Carmody also recalled testimony from Lowe’s March trial, in which a Tredyffrin police detective pretended to be Holt in contacting Lowe for a delivery of more drugs, a day or so after her death in November 2018. As Holt, Detective Robert Bostick told the person on the other end of the text — later identified as Lowe — that drugs he had delivered to her house earlier had made her “sick all day” but that she wanted more.
Despite knowing the danger, Lowe nevertheless delivered more of the same drug, a powerful synthetic heroin he assured his clients was “str8 hammer” powerful. That showed how indifferent to Holt’s life Lowe was, Carmody said.
Lowe, 25, of Philadelphia, was sentenced on charges of felony drug delivery resulting in death, possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, and criminal use of a communications facility. The drug delivery sentence was for eight to 20 years, combined with five to 10 years on the possession charge and one to two years on the communications charge.
Overall, the sentence was more than many who face prison in the county when they give drugs to an addict who overdoses. The charge of drug delivery resulting in death has been charged in a number of fatal overdose cases in the county, but often results in conviction for other, lesser charges, such as possession with intent to deliver. To gain a conviction for the charge, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the specific dose of drugs given to the victim by a defendant that caused death.
“The opioid epidemic is a scourge on our society,” said Cocco, the lead prosecutor on the case. “This sentence shows drug dealers that Chester County law enforcement will investigate and prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law. While no sentence can adequately fill the hole left in the Holt family from the passing of Alanna Holt, this sentence sends a clear message that this type of criminal behavior will not be tolerated.”
“This is the highest sentence and first jury trial conviction for this type of case in the county,” added District Attorney Deb Ryan in a statement. “We are hopeful that this sentence will resonate throughout the county to drug dealers peddling this poison in our county and serve as a deterrence to all.
In a victim impact statement she read into the record, Holt’s mother, Leslie Holt, said she believed the jury that found Lowe guilty would have wanted Carmody to impose the maximum sentenced allowed — 20 to 40 years — for her daughter’s death.
“Had there not been a predator, Ricky Lowe, waiting for someone in pain, who had poison to give, Lana would be here today,” Leslie Holt said. “Collectively, as a society, and as parents, we hear and experience this type of heinous crime too often. Only when there is a real deterrent will predators question the risks they are taking in dealing in death.”
Lowe’s attorney, Joseph P. Green Jr. of West Chester, urged the judge to keep his sentence within standard guidelines for someone such as Lowe who had no adult criminal history, and a childhood of abuse. But he said he could not argue against the judge’s frustration with Lowe’s conduct in prison after his conviction, and the transcript of his dealings on the outside.
Police were called to Holt’s home in the Malvern area of Tredyffrin at about 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 2, 2018, for the report of an unresponsive female. In his testimony at Lowe’s trial, Holt’s father, Timothy Holt, described going to check on his daughter and finding her slumped at the foot of her bed, upright and unconscious. He tried to revive her, as did emergency personnel, but was unsuccessful.
Lowe, 25, was arrested by Tredyffrin police in 2018 after investigators were able to tie text messages sent from his phone to Holt’s cellphone in which the two discussed trading drugs for gift cards and prescription pills. Bostick was able to pose as Holt in a series of texts in which he lured Lowe to her home to drop off another delivery of suspected 3-methyl fentanyl a few days after her death.
Police were waiting and took a man later identified as a Lowe into custody.
At the time, Holt was one of 112 Chester County residents who died from an accidental drug overdose, and one of those who succumbed to a substance that dealers in the area were distributing as an alternative to heroin — so-called "analogs" like 3-methyl fentanyl.
In July 2018, Chester County Coroner Dr. Christina VandePol issued a warning about the increased presence of 3-methyl fentanyl in the drug overdose deaths her office had been investigating. Eventually, 112 residents would die that year from accidental overdoses, a number that decreased, slightly, in 2019 to 104.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.