ALBANY — Judge Mae D’Agostino called Ronald Showers a coward before sentencing the heroin dealer to more than four years in federal prison in the death of 19-year-old Rachel Smith of Schenectady.
“I don’t want to get caught with it so I’ll put it in her car,” D’Agostino said Wednesday in federal court, referring to how Showers hid heroin behind the passenger-side visor of a car Smith drove because he was on parole. “You gave the victim access to the drugs that extinguished her life.”
Showers admitted in January to putting the bundle of seven small, pink heroin packets held together with a rubber band — which he intended to sell — in the gray Nissan Sentra on Victory Avenue in Schenectady on Sept. 13, 2014. The next day, Smith died in her nearby apartment of an overdose. Police found the bundle of heroin in her bedroom carrying traces of Showers’ DNA.
Showers never admitted providing her with the drug — but D’Agostino said he knowingly put her life at risk.
“He was involved in a relationship with this young woman,” D’Agostino said. “He must’ve known that she was not a heroin user. He must’ve known that one dose could kill her — and it did.”
She sentenced Showers, 42, of Albany to 54 months in prison and three years of supervised release for possessing and intending to sell heroin that caused Smith’s death. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Barnett had asked for more time — 13 years and six months — but the defense wanted far less.
Showers’ attorney, Brian Devane, claimed there was no link proven between the heroin Showers admitted to having and Smith’s death; he asked for a sentence of 15 to 21 months.
The investigation didn’t show that any of the bundled heroin, which was found inside a closed Motrin bottle in a dresser drawer in Smith’s room, had been used, Devane argued. Investigators also found two pieces of empty heroin baggie corners on top of the dresser, which Devane asked the judge to infer had contained the heroin Smith ingested.
But D’Agostino said she had not been a heroin user and there was no evidence at the scene, like needles or other paraphernalia, to suggest she was. She had only used marijuana and cocaine, she said, and there was "nothing to suggest she had heroin from any other sources" other than the packets Showers left in her car.
She also said the defense's argument that Showers didn't tell her about the heroin being in her car "strains credibility," saying she did not think Smith would have found it behind the passenger-seat visor within 24 hours without being alerted to its presence.
“Everything in this case points directly to you, Mr. Showers,” she said.
The judge also pointed to Showers’ five felony convictions in justifying the sentence, calling him a “risk to society.” She highlighted his shooting someone in the leg in 1996, an armed robbery in December 2000 and, at one point while on parole, his opening a fraudulent credit line.
“The only time that you have not been committing crimes is when you’ve been incarcerated,” she said.
She also took into account Showers’ role in contributing to the opioid epidemic plaguing communities across the nation. She said more than 52,000 people died of heroin overdoses in the United States last year, comparing it to 40,000 people killed in car crashes.
“How many more parents are going to get the call in 2017?” she asked. “How many young people are going to die? When you leave heroin in a 19-year-old’s car, bad things happen, and a tragic thing happened here.”
Smith’s mother, father and younger sister were in court Wednesday. Her mother wept as Barnett read a statement from Smith’s younger sister, who consoled her. She wrote that she is “forever guarded.”
“Being happy doesn’t seem normal anymore,” she wrote.
Before being sentenced, Showers told the judge he was trying to get his life together and that he was “sorry for everything that took place.”
“I send my condolences to the family,” he said. “I take full responsibility for my actions. I didn’t intend no harm.”