Brandon Phillips was sentenced to a year in prison on drug charges Wednesday, with the judge stressing the amount of fentanyl found in his possession was enough to seriously harm someone had they picked it up unknowingly.
Phillips, 30, will serve the sentence concurrent to the the life sentence he is already serving for second-degree murder.
Phillips was an inmate at Her Majesty's Penitentiary, on remand awaiting his murder trial, when the drug charges were laid. According to an agreed statement of facts presented to the court this week, Phillips had received a visitor at HMP on May 26, 2017. When the visitor left, a correctional officer saw Phillips pick up a package that was left near the fence, outside the building. Officers seized the package and located the visitor, who was held until police arrived.
The package contained matches, cigarette rolling papers, tobacco, marijuana, and 2.6 grams of a grayish-pink powder, later determined to be 6.8 per cent fentanyl mixed with heroin.
Crown prosecutor Brenda Boyd and defense lawyer John Hartery presented a joint submission to provincial court Judge Mike Madden for a 12 month sentence for Philliips.
Boyd also presented a report from a medical expert, who noted fentanyl is a powerful opiate, about 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin. A lethal dose for a person who had not established a tolerance to the drug would be about two miligrams, the expert wrote, and the fentanyl would be undetectable to a lay-person by looking at the powder.
As a result, anyone exposed to it could be at risk of death, even if they simply inhaled the powder, the report read.
"We would submit there was a great risk of exposure, not only to Mr. Phillips but to the guards and everyone else in the prison," Boyd told the judge.
Hartery noted Phillips had pleaded guilty to the charges, and said he has completed a long list of self-improvement and counselling programs since he was taken into custody more than three years ago.
Madden accepted the joint submission, saying athough fentanyl is in the same legal class as heroin and morphine, it "has the potentil to cause more serious harm." The seized package had been left outdoors and could have been picked up by someone other than Phillips, Madden said.
Phillips was convicted last December of second-degree murder in the shooting death of 63-year-old Larry Wellman during an attempted armed robbery at a downtown St. John's hotel in 2015. He was handed a life sentence last February, but will be eligible for parole in 2027.
Wellman's partner, Linda McBay, was in the courtroom as Phillips was sentenced on the drug charges Wednesday, having vowed when he was sentenced for Wellman's murder to attend all his court appearances and parole hearings.
Phillips, who is appealing his murder conviction on a number of grounds, including that the verdict was not supported by evidence, is expected to now be transferred to a federal penitentiary on the mainland.
Brandon Phillips pleads guilty to drug charges