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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jail overdose traced back to inmate’s pills

DNA testing finds match with victim

A convicted killer who committed suicide at the Spokane County Jail did so using pills prescribed to another inmate.

Now detectives are investigating whether the pill provider could be at least partly responsible for the suicide of Christopher H. Devlin, who was found dead in his jail cell Sept. 20, five days after being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

An autopsy determined Devlin, 58, died of an overdose of amitriptyline, an antidepressant prescribed to only two jail inmates.

Detectives are awaiting test results comparing inmate Ronald F. Edwards’ DNA to the DNA found on a pill hidden in Devlin’s mattress. Detectives believe the prescription holder gave the pills to Devlin after hiding his daily dose in his mouth so jail employees would believe he’d ingested it.

DNA from the other inmate with an amitriptyline prescription did not match, Spokane County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Barbieri said.

But it did match DNA from Edwards, 41, that was already entered in the system. Detectives obtained a new DNA sample last week to double-check.

Edwards has requested a lawyer, Barbieri said.

Detectives aren’t sure if he knew Devlin’s intentions when he gave him the pills, Barbieri said. But they believe Devlin planned the suicide. A former cellmate said Devlin intended to kill himself if convicted. After he died, detectives found “I’m free now” written on a wall of Devlin’s cell.

“We don’t think there’s anything more to how he died other than he killed himself, but that still doesn’t alleviate the person who gave him the controlled substance,” Barbieri said.

But Edwards’ intent behind hoarding the pills – if he did so – could be crucial to any charging decision by prosecutors. Barbieri said investigators are considering charges of manslaughter, homicide by controlled substance, or delivery of a controlled substance.

Edwards was sentenced to 25 months in prison for third-degree assault in October.

Hoarding pills by hiding them in the mouth is common in jails and prisons, Barbieri said.

Inmates “cheek” prescription medicine and remove it after jail staff check their mouths to ensure they’ve ingested it. The pills can be traded for other valued items in jail, such as cigarettes.

Devlin had no criminal record before Aug. 18, when a Stevens County jury convicted him of the May 2008 shooting death of 52-year-old Daniel Heily, who was to testify against Devlin in an assault case.

Defense attorney Mark Vovos has filed a notice of intent to appeal Devlin’s convictions and said he’s “shocked” by his client’s apparent suicide.

“In 43 years of practice, he had substantively the best appeal I have ever seen,” Vovos said.