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Press Release

Using Opioids Leads to Three Deaths in Eastern Iowa

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Iowa
Three Men Sentenced to Federal Prison for Distributing Opioids that Led to Deaths in Northern Iowa

Three men who distributed an opioid that led to the death of the person who used the drug were sentenced to federal prison over the last week. 

“Opioid abuse remains at an all-time high and these dangerous drugs wreak havoc on lives and communities,” said United States Attorney Pete Deegan.  “Street drugs - including those sold over the internet - routinely contain powerful opioids.  These drugs have never been more deadly and anyone caught distributing them will be held accountable.”

Opioids are extremely dangerous and powerful drugs.  These drugs are so potent that extremely small doses can cause overdose and even death.  The picture below shows fatal doses of three different opioids.

Fatal Opioid Doses


Over the last week, three men were sentenced to federal prison in Cedar Rapids for their roles in distributing opioids that eventually led to the deaths of three Iowans who used the drugs.  These cases demonstrate that those buying and using drugs may not know they are getting.  They may be getting more powerful and dangerous drugs then they realize.  Either way, the use of an opioid too often ends with death because a drug user does not know what kind of drug they are taking or how dangerous it is. 

The three men sentenced were:

  1. On October 17, 2018, Richard Leroy Parker, age 47, from Dubuque, Iowa, received a sentence of life imprisonment following a January 18, 2018, jury verdict finding him guilty of distribution of heroin within 1,000 feet of an elementary school and a playground, resulting in death, and of possession with intent to distribute heroin within 1,000 feet of an elementary school and a playground.

    The evidence at trial showed that Parker obtained several grams of heroin in Chicago in April 2017.  On Easter Sunday, Parker brought the heroin to a residence on Rhomberg Avenue in Dubuque.  Parker and other individuals at the residence drank alcohol and smoked crack cocaine throughout the day.  Prior to midnight, Parker and a woman went into a back bedroom.  While inside the room, Parker gave the woman heroin, which she used. Shortly after using the heroin, she stopped breathing.  At approximately 12:20 a.m. on April 17, Parker called 911, and emergency responders arrived at the scene.  Parker testified that, as emergency responders were attempting to save the woman’s life, he went into another room and hid the remaining heroin in a chair. Investigators later found the rest of the heroin.  The attempts to resuscitate the woman were unsuccessful, and she was pronounced dead shortly after 1:15 a.m.

    Parker had numerous felony criminal convictions.  Amongst his prior convictions are four prior felony convictions related to drugs,                 including three prior convictions for drug distribution.  In April 2017, Parker had recently been released after spending nearly a                           decade in prison for a burglary conviction.
  2. On October 11, 2018, Jervonie Murphy, age 26, from Dubuque, Iowa, received a sentence of 33 months’ imprisonment following a May 21, 2018, guilty plea to two counts of distributing heroin within 1,000 feet of a public playground or school in Dubuque.

    At the sentencing hearing, Murphy admitted he sold at least 80 grams of heroin between 2015 and 2018.  On July 18, 2016,Murphy sold heroin to a woman.  That woman shared some of the heroin with another woman who used the heroin and was found unresponsive the next morning.  She never recovered and was pronounced dead on July 20, 2016.  An autopsy revealed that the woman died of “mixed drug toxicity” involving methamphetamine and heroin.

    Information presented at the sentencing also showed that less than two weeks later, Murphy again sold heroin.  The Dubuque Drug Task Force eventually made two controlled buys of heroin from Murphy.  One of the sales occurred within 1,000 feet of two playgrounds in Dubuque.  The second controlled buy occurred within 1,000 feet of an elementary school.  Officers then searched Murphy’s home and found marijuana, crack cocaine, powder cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl.

    Murphy had no felony criminal convictions prior to this offense.
  3. On October 11, 2018, Jay Rickert, age 28, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, received a sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment following a June 14, 2018, guilty plea to willfully causing the distribution of a controlled substance. 
    According to information disclosed at sentencing and in sentencing documents, Rickert admitted to ordering DMT, an illegal hallucinogenic drug, from an on-line supplier on the dark web. Rickert had the drugs shipped directly to his friend, a 22-year‑old woman who lived in Dubuque, Iowa.  He also shipped a precise digital scale to the woman, and provided her detailed instructions on the quantity of DMT she could safely use.

    Unbeknownst to either Rickert or the woman in Dubuque, the dark web supplier shipped fentanyl instead of DMT.  DMT and Fentanyl are nearly identical in appearance.  The woman, believing the substance to be DMT, used the fentanyl and died.  Rickert was talking to the woman over Skype while she used the fentanyl.  After seeing her fall over, Rickert called 911.  An    autopsy later concluded that the cause of death was a fentanyl overdose. 

    Rickert had no criminal history prior to this conviction.

    The pictures below show how similar DMT is to Fentanyl in appearance.  The picture on the left is of DMT and the picture on the right is Fentanyl.
DMT and Fentanyl


All three men were sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Judge Linda R. Reade.  They are being held in the United States Marshal’s custody until they can be transported to a federal prison.  There is no parole in the federal system.

The cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Dan Chatham and Justin Lightfoot and investigated by the Dubuque Drug Task Force, the Dubuque Police Department, the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

Court file information at

The case file number are 17-CR-1034 (Parker), 18-CR-1010 (Murphy), and 18-CR-1008 (Rickert).

Follow us on Twitter @USAO_NDIA.

Updated October 18, 2018

Drug Trafficking