Former Los Angeles Angels employee Eric Kay was found guilty Thursday in connection with the 2019 drug-related death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. Kay was found guilty on counts of distributing counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in connection to the death of the 27-year-old pitcher.
Closing arguments in Kay's Forth Worth trial concluded on Thursday, and the jury took only about an hour to return verdicts on all counts. Sentencing is set for June 28. Kay faces a minimum of 20 years in federal prison.
"We are very grateful to the government and the jury for seeing this important case through to the right verdict," the Skaggs family said in a statement. "Tyler was the light of our family. He is gone, and nothing can ever bring him back. We are relieved that justice was served, although today is a painful reminder of the worst day in the life of our family."
"This case is a sobering reminder: Fentanyl kills. Anyone who deals fentanyl — whether on the streets or out of a world-famous baseball stadium — puts his or her buyers at risk," said U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham in a statement. "No one is immune from this deadly drug. A beloved pitcher, Tyler Skaggs was struck down in the midst of an ascendant career. The Justice Department is proud to hold his dealer accountable for his family and friends' unimaginable loss."
The Skaggs family filed a lawsuit against the Angels last June. Skaggs' widow, Carli, filed a lawsuit in California while his parents filed a separate lawsuit in Texas. Both lawsuits are pending.
"The trial showed Eric Kay's drug trafficking was known to numerous people in the Angels organization, and it resulted in the tragic and unnecessary death of one of their most popular players," Rusty Hardin, the attorney representing the Skaggs family in the lawsuits, said in a statement following Thursday's verdicts. "We have no doubt that the Angels knew what Eric Kay was doing, and the team is morally and legally responsible for his conduct. In the upcoming civil cases, we are looking forward to holding the team accountable. While this verdict is the beginning of seeing justice served, it is a painful reminder of a very sad day in the life of Tyler's family. It is obviously a bad day for the Angels, who have given a black eye to our National Pastime. I am confident that Major League Baseball will give this important issue the attention and corrective measures it deserves."
Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room in Southlake, Texas on July 1, 2019, before a scheduled game against the Rangers. Following the death, an autopsy was performed and the toxicology report showed traces of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol in his system. The cause of death was listed as "alcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone intoxication with terminal aspiration of gastric contents," which in essence means choked on his own vomit due to intoxication. Kay had been charged with possessing and distributing opioids, a Schedule II controlled substance, and causing the opioid-related death of Skaggs. Kay was originally charged in August of 2020 and indicted by a federal grand jury in Texas in October of that same year.
In 2019, Kay told U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents that Skaggs introduced him to a dealer, and paid for both men's drugs while Kay handled the transactions. Kay told investigators he did not have pills with him during the team's trip to Texas, and that when he saw Skaggs that night, he had pills already and was conscious when Kay left the room.
The trial included testimonies from current and former big-league players, including Matt Harvey, C.J. Cron, Mike Morin, and Cam Bedrosian, who all said they received opioid pills from Kay. Of particular note was the testimony of Harvey, who stated that he would on occasion provide Skaggs with Percocet pills, and that painkiller usage was common among players in 2019. He also told the court about how, after being told he wasn't traveling with the Angels on what proved to be that 2019 road trip, he asked Kay for an oxycodone pill.
Harvey acknowledged during the trial that he had been granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation with the investigation, but he could face discipline by MLB should he sign with a team this offseason. The Angels released the following statement after the verdict was announced Thursday:
On behalf of the entire Angels Organization, we are saddened by the devastating heartache that surrounds this tragedy, especially for the Skaggs family. Our compassion goes out to all families and individuals that have been impacted.
The players' testimony was incredibly difficult for our organization to hear, and it is a reminder that too often drug use and addiction are hidden away. From the moment we learned of Tyler's death, our focus has been to fully understand the circumstances that led to this tragedy.
We are thankful that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have taken the Important step to update their drug policies for players using opioids so that they can receive help.
The defense spent close to 12 hours attempting to poke holes in the government's case to establish reasonable doubt, arguing Skaggs had multiple drug sources and there was no evidence a crime was committed in Texas. In a statement, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Texas noted Kay denied knowing Skaggs was a drug user during his initial interview with law enforcement officers.
The Angels' organization has maintained that no one in any position of authority knew about Skaggs' drug use or anything else relating specifically to the situation. While the trial is over, Skaggs' death and Kay's role in it will no doubt prompt a wider discussion about the use and abuse of painkillers in Major League Baseball.