At Skaggs trial, 4 MLB players testify they received drugs
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Four major league players testified Tuesday that they received oxycodone pills from a former Los Angeles Angels employee accused of providing Tyler Skaggs the drugs that led to the pitcher’s overdose death.
Pitchers Matt Harvey, Mike Morin and Cam Bedrosian and first baseman C.J. Cron all took the stand and described bits and pieces of recreational drug use allegedly going on in and around the Angels three years ago, when they played for the team. They were with the Angels at some point from 2017-19, the years federal prosecutors say Eric Kay obtained drugs for players. Kay faces drug distribution and drug conspiracy charges.
Prosecutors rested their case to finish the most dramatic day of the weeklong trial, which included testimony from Skaggs’ widow about the last time she saw her husband and the last text she received from him the night before he was found dead in a suburban Dallas hotel room.
“I’m sorry, guys,” Carli Skaggs told the 10-woman, two-man jury at one point during several pauses to try to speak more clearly or compose herself. “This is just really hard for me.”
Skaggs’ emotional appearance came after her husband’s former teammates spent the morning explaining their own drug use, how they got drugs from Kay, Skaggs and other sources. They also said the use of oxycodone was common around the majors, an unsettling image for a league just a generation removed from its devastating steroids era.
The defense, which is disputing the prosecution’s contention that Kay delivered drugs to Skaggs after the team traveled to Texas, opens its case Wednesday in downtown Fort Worth. The federal court is about 15 miles from the home of the Texas Rangers where the Angels were supposed to play the day Skaggs’ body was found.
After saying he was subpoenaed and testifying only because he has immunity from prosecution, Harvey acknowledged being a cocaine user before and during his season with the Angels in 2019. The former New York Mets star said he tried oxycodone provided by Skaggs during his season with the Angels and also provided drugs to Skaggs.
Morin and Cron testified to longer periods of getting oxycodone from Kay, while Bedrosian said he received three or four pills once and gave the rest back after taking one and not liking the way it made him feel.
Of the four players, only Cron is on a major league roster (Colorado Rockies). The others are free agents; Harvey, who played last year for the Orioles, said he believes his testimony will threaten his career. Andrew Heaney, one of Skaggs’ closest friends with the Angels and now under contract with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, was the first government witness last week.
Skaggs, 27, was found dead July 1, 2019, the day after the team had traveled from Los Angeles and before the start of a series against the Rangers. A coroner’s report said Skaggs had choked to death on his vomit, and a toxic mix of alcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone were in his system.
Kay served as the team’s public relations contact on many road trips, and the trip to Texas was his first since returning from rehab. Kay was placed on leave shortly after Skaggs’ death and never returned to the team.
Prosecutors are trying to establish that Kay was the only one who could have provided the drugs that led to Skaggs’ death, and that the drugs were delivered after the team arrived in Texas. The defense counters that Skaggs had multiple suppliers, and that the last time Kay gave him drugs was before the team left.
Harvey said Skaggs had another source but didn’t get many drugs from that source. Harvey said he had his own drug supplier on the East Coast, and said he got oxycodone for Skaggs from that supplier.
Harvey said Skaggs asked for pills before a road trip in June 2019 because he wanted to feel “loosey-goosey” before a start. Harvey said Skaggs told him he once crushed an oxycodone pill and snorted it on a toilet paper dispenser in the Angels’ clubhouse.
The defense asked Harvey and Morin if they were aware of the danger of mixing alcohol and oxycodone, and they said they were. Defense attorney Michael Molfetta asked Harvey if he ever asked Skaggs to be careful.
“Looking back, I wish I had,” Harvey said. “In baseball you do everything you can to stay on the field. At the time, I felt as a teammate I was just helping him get through whatever he needed to get through.”
Harvey said he found out Skaggs had died when he woke up July 1 and threw away the remaining oxycodone pills he had, even before knowing anything about the cause of death.
“I wanted absolutely nothing to do with that anymore, and I was very scared,” said Harvey, who also said oxycodone use was common in the major leagues.
Cron said he received pills from Kay while with the Angels in 2017 and was still getting them from him after going to Tampa Bay in 2018. He said Kay was his only supplier.
Kay faces a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and maximum of life on the distribution charge resulting in death. The conspiracy count carries a maximum of 20 years.
Carli Skaggs said she went to the Angels’ home game against Oakland before the team left for Texas and saw Skaggs in the family room before the players boarded a bus for the airport. The last text she received, “miss you babe,” was sent just after midnight Texas time, or 10 p.m. in California.
Carli Skaggs said she didn’t know the extent of her husband’s drug use and would have tried to do more to prevent it had she known. She said he felt pressure to stay healthy and continue his major league career.
On cross examination, Molfetta asked Carli Skaggs about a text she sent to her husband that told him don’t get drunk and fall asleep, and a subsequent text after no response in which she wrote, “You have a drinking problem, I’m about to tell Tom Taylor,” referring to the Angels’ traveling secretary.
“You’re asking about a text that I sent out of anger saying something that wasn’t true that my husband couldn’t respond to because he was dead,” Carli Skaggs responded.
Dr. Stacey Hail, an expert witness for the government, testified that fentanyl caused Skaggs’ death, a key aspect for the prosecution since the autopsy classified the death as accidental from the mix of alcohol and drugs.
The final witness for prosecutors was former DEA agent Susannah Herkert, who was a pilot for the agency and testified that it would be difficult for anyone outside the Angels’ organization to gain access to the airport in Long Beach. Part of the defense’s case is that a drug-dealing friend of Skaggs could have met him at the airport and delivered drugs to him.