In an unusual and potentially historic case, Nathaniel Evan Cabacungan has been sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Jewels Marie Wolf. Cabacungan supplied the victim with a counterfeit Percocet pill that contained a lethal dose of fentanyl. This landmark conviction marks the first instance of a murder conviction linked to a fentanyl-related death.
During a post-sentencing news conference, Placer County District Attorney Morgan Gire and law enforcement officials acknowledged the gravity of the situation. Gire expressed that this was not an honor they sought, and it certainly wasn’t something that Jewels’ family deserved. The impact statements from the victim’s parents and loved ones during the court proceedings showcased the resilience of the human spirit.
According to prosecutors, after providing the fentanyl-laced tablet to the victim, Cabacungan abandoned her while she lay dying in her bed without seeking assistance. He subsequently sold the deadly pills to another individual. District Attorney Gire emphasized that Cabacungan had the opportunity to intervene and save her life but instead chose to witness her tragic demise.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta also addressed reporters during the news conference, acknowledging the historic nature of the sentencing. Bonta highlighted the alarming surge in fatal fentanyl overdoses among young people, describing the drug as cheap, potent, and lethal.
While Attorney General Bonta’s presence at the event was understandable from a superficial standpoint, it raises questions about whether it was an attempt at self-promotion by an ambitious politician aiming to become the state’s governor. Notably, Bonta was notably absent earlier in the year when the California Legislature was deliberating on bills aimed at combatting fentanyl abuse—many of which were ultimately rejected.
While Bonta’s praise for Placer County’s fentanyl murder conviction might imply support for harsher penalties against fentanyl distributors, neither he nor his office supported the bills that aimed to introduce even moderate punitive measures. The Assembly Public Safety Committee evaluated seven fentanyl-related bills in April, rejecting three that proposed increased penalties for those supplying fentanyl. These bills included measures addressing dealers whose customers suffered severe harm or death, the use of social media for fentanyl sales (similar to Cabacungan’s case), and possession of large quantities of the drug.
The Assembly Public Safety Committee is known for its reluctance to approve legislation that seeks to enhance criminal penalties, despite widespread support from law enforcement entities and impassioned appeals from families who lost loved ones to fentanyl overdoses.
While Attorney General Bonta could have used his platform to express support for these bills during the legislative process, he refrained from doing so and did not list himself as a supporter.
Placer County remains committed to combatting the deadly fentanyl trade, as District Attorney Gire emphasized, making it clear that those who knowingly distribute this harmful substance in their community will face legal consequences. However, the disconnect between Bonta’s public statements and his actions regarding fentanyl-related legislation raises questions about his commitment to addressing the issue effectively.