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Press Release

Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Deadly Heroin Distribution Conviction and 324-Month Sentence

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

RALEIGH- United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr., announced that yesterday the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence of ELTON WAYNE WALSTON, age 67, of Wilson, North Carolina, who was sentenced by United States District Judge Louise W. Flanagan to 324 months’ imprisonment and 3 years’ supervised release.

In 2015, the Wilson Police Department and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Raleigh, North Carolina, identified WALSTON as a source of heroin in the Wilson, Greenville, and Nash County areas.  Investigation confirmed that the defendant sold heroin on multiple occasions, including a March 2015 sale that led to the death of a Wilson man.

SARAH ANNE MOLLENHAUER, 33, of Anthem, Arizona, pleaded guilty to a Superseding Criminal Information on November 15, 2016 that charged her with distribution of a quantity of heroin and aiding and abetting.  She was sentenced to 45 months’ imprisonment and 3 years’ supervised release for her role in facilitating the sale of heroin that led to the victim’s death.  MOLLENHAUER testified during WALSTON’s June 2017 trial.

The trial evidence showed that on March 26, 2015, MOLLENHAUER and the victim used heroin obtained from WALSTON.  The next morning, MOLLENHAUER notified the mother of the victim that her son was not breathing and that he was at his brother’s residence on Dover Road in Wilson.  At the scene, officers located and questioned MOLLENHAUER.  Specifically, MOLLENHAUER advised that she and the victim “hung out” on the evening of March 26, 2015.  Furthermore, MOLLENHAUER advised that she left the victim around 12:30am on March 27, 2015, to meet her boyfriend.  MOLLENHAUER returned to the residence with her boyfriend, a nurse, to check on the victim who was lying on the floor with his eyes closed and breathing heavily.  MOLLENHAUER and her boyfriend left the residence at 1:30am.  MOLLENHAUER indicated she returned at 5:30am to again check on the victim’s condition.  At that time, she found the victim lying on the bathroom floor and not breathing.  He was pronounced dead on the scene by responding EMS personnel at 6:21 am.  Based on this and other evidence, a jury found WALSTON guilty of one count of distributing heroin that resulted in the death; one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin; one count of illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition; and four counts of distribution of heroin.

WALSTON appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, arguing that limitations on his cross-examination of MOLLENHAUER violated his constitutional right to confront his accusers.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, explained that the district court “properly allowed WALSTON to investigate the witness’ motivation during cross-examination without bringing out the exact penalties” she would have faced if convicted of distribution of heroin resulting in death.  Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed WALSTON’s conviction and sentence.

U.S. Attorney Higdon commented:  “I am pleased that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed this conviction and sentence as we continue to try to stem the tide of drug distribution and death from overdose in the Eastern District of North Carolina.   This was the first Eastern District of North Carolina prosecution using the drug-distribution-resulting-in-death statutory enhancement, but sadly it will not be the last.  Our district, like those across the nation, has seen an increase in opioid overdoses and deaths, and we are committed to using all the tools available to make our community a safer place.”

The case was investigated by the DEA Raleigh Resident Office, Wilson Police Department, North Carolina State Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations Crime Lab, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).  The federal prosecution was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Edward D. Gray.  The appeal was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Kristine L. Fritz.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit hears appeals from the nine federal district courts located in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, as well as from federal administrative agencies.  More information about the Court can be found on its website,  The Court’s opinion in this case can be found at:, and the United States Attorney’s previous press releases regarding this case can be found at and

Updated August 9, 2018

Drug Trafficking