Andrew Frye: This Is What Involuntary Manslaughter Looks Like
Apr. 12, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Involuntary manslaughter is a difficult criminal concept. By its very nature, it involves prosecution for something the defendant didn’t mean to do. Add in our overwhelming desire to prosecute people for every result we don’t like, and the concept becomes even more troubling. Does it ever make sense to prosecute the unintended consequences of an act?
Sometimes it does. Last week, a 16-year-old Ohio boy was found dead in a motel room. Andrew Frye overdosed on heroin and fentanyl. He doesn’t look like a heroin addict. Andrew looks like a normal teenage boy. According to the Washington Post, Andrew’s mother, Heather Frye, lost custody of him, and he was being raised by a relative, Tammy Smith.
Like most teenagers, Andrew wanted a relationship with his mom. But unlike most teenagers, that desire would lead to his untimely death.
“He just wanted his mother and to be around [her] no matter how bad it was,” Julie Andrea, Tammy’s 33-year-old daughter, told the Beacon Journal. “He wanted her to stop. He thought that if he was with her when she was using, at least he was with her.”
Unfortunately, the opposite occurred, and the teenager developed his own history of drug abuse, the Plain Dealer reported. And yet, he was still a teenager, family members told the paper, one who “liked animals, building computers, playing with his cousin’s children and singing.”
So how did Andrew go from building computers and playing with his buddies to dying in a crappy motel room? The same desire to have his mother in his life led to something much more sinister. Andrew developed his own addiction. Like most heroin addictions, it would kill him.
Tammy Smith took custody of Andrew when he was just a baby. His mother, already developing her own drug habit, couldn’t take care of him. Smith and her fiancée raised Andrew. As Andrew became a teenager, he naturally reached out to his mother, who would show up sporadically to visit with him.
The Smith family regrets letting him go, as they had every six months to a year when they said Heather came around promising that she was clean and things would be better.
“Never in a million years did we think she would get him into heroin,” Andrea said. “We think the only reason he did it was to get her approval.”
Last week those visits would end in tragedy.
Tammy Smith remembers the last time her adoptive son walked out the door of their Akron home.
“He told me he loved me and he would come back,” Tammy Smith said of Tuesday night, when 16-year-old Andrew Frye left with her niece — his biological mother, Heather Frye — to go swimming at a motel.
The next day, Andrew would die in that motel room. According to police, his mother called 911 after finding him cold and unresponsive. She told detectives she wanted to be the “fun weekend mom.” Andrew was in the room with his mother and grandmother, both heroin addicts. They obtained the heroin and gave some to Andrew. According to his mother’s statement to police, she made him go in the bathroom to shoot up, because she didn’t want to watch it.
Both Andrew’s mother and grandmother are charged with involuntary manslaughter, in addition to other charges. There is no question neither one of them intended to kill Andrew. But they did kill him.
In a separate interview, Heather’s former boyfriend Robert Corn stressed to the Beacon Journal on Friday that drug addiction — not malice or neglect — is at the center of the tragedy.
“Heather’s not a monster,” he said. “What she did was very wrong, but it was the dope. It wasn’t her. … She is an absolute sweetheart when she’s not using.”
Heather had been using drugs for decades after her mother introduced her to them, Corn said.
“Brenda was the boulder that smashed everything,” he said. “Everything spins down from her.”
The question of malice, neglect, and drug addiction is a complex one. Andrew was a minor, a teenager, and certainly not old enough to be making rational decisions. That’s what parents are for. Since drug addiction doesn’t lend itself to rational decisions, Andrew didn’t stand a chance. One of the people charged with helping him survive to adulthood handed him the one thing almost guaranteed to prevent him from reaching that point in his life.
This is a very different case of parenting from Curry Bryson’s conviction last week. Bryson left a gun on a closet shelf, and his child snuck into his room and took it. The child did not live with him, he wasn’t home at the time this happened, and Bryson could not have anticipated the events that resulted in a child’s death.
There is no similar chain of events to save Heather Frye. She sat in a motel room with a teenager for whom she was responsible, handed him one of the most powerful and addictive drugs in the world, and was a few feet away from him as he shot the drug into his veins. He died as a direct result of her actions that night.
Involuntary manslaughter serves as one of the most confusing crimes of modern times. The plain meaning of the term is killing somebody accidentally. Which, of course, is not really what involuntary manslaughter is. Frye is charged with the Ohio version of the law. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has deemed that Ohio statute constitutional because it criminalizes causing death while committing a crime, no matter how minor the crime is. The intent to commit an underlying crime, even a misdemeanor, supplies the requisite intent to convict for involuntary manslaughter.
At least in Ohio, a pure accident would not support an involuntary manslaughter conviction. Some criminal activity, even if small, is required. The difference between that and an accident is slight, but important. Accidents happen. By their nature, accidents involve events that someone does not foresee. Bryson left a gun in a closet, but the chain of events that resulted in his son shooting a younger boy is hard to foresee. The amount of effort it took to get the gun calls into question Bryson’s criminal responsibility for the shooting. There are too many factors in between his conduct and the child’s death for us to feel comfortable with his conviction.
Heather Frye, on the other hand, doesn’t get the benefit of the attenuation argument. There was just one event between her actions and her son’s death: handing him a needle full of heroin and fentanyl.
Andrew Frye’s mother may not have intended to kill him, but his death was no accident.