Testimony underway in jury trial

Defendant allegedly sold drugs resulting in Pelham man’s death

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup William Luna, left, listens to testimony Monday with one of his attorneys, Anthony Naro, on the first day of his trial on charges that accuse him of selling fentanyl to a Pelham man who later overdosed and died.

NASHUA – When Brandon Wells heard his son’s alarm clock sounding from the lower level of their Pelham home at about 6 a.m. on June 20, 2017, he went downstairs to make sure his son was up and getting ready for work.

Wells testifed Monday in Hillsborough County Superior Court-South that when he found the bed empty, he figured his son, 25-year-old Nicholas Wells, had stepped outside to smoke a cigarette.

Seconds later, Brandon Wells was “screaming to my family to call 911,” while struggling to tell them he had just found his son lying, cold and unresponsive, on the ground just outside the door of the walkout basement where Nicholas Wells had set up a studio apartment.

An autopsy would determine that Nicholas Wells died of an overdose of fentanyl, sparking an investigation in which police concluded an alleged drug dealer named William Luna sold Wells the dose of fentanyl that killed him – prompting them to charge him with sale of a controlled drug – death resulting, a special felony that is punishable by up to life in prison.

The charge is one of seven on which Luna went to trial, the testimony of which began with the lawyers’ opening statements Monday morning and is expected to last through the end of the week.

Luna, 45, a Lowell, Massachusetts resident who has been in Valley Street jail since his arrest on June 20, 2017, was indicted in October 2017 on the death-resulting charge, along with two counts each of a controlled drug – acts prohibited, and possession of a controlled drug – subsequent offense, all felonies; and one count each of possession of cocaine – subsequent offense and possession of fentanyl, amount greater than one gram and less than five grams, both special felonies.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. today in Courtroom 4 at the Nashua court.

Marc Gouthro, who is defending Luna along with Anthony Naro, predicted in his opening statement that “even after you (jurors) hear all the evidence in the state’s case, you won’t know who provided the drugs that actually caused the death of Nicholas Wells.”

Gouthro told jurors they won’t know the answer “because the state will be unable to prove to you, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Luna provided the drugs that killed Nicholas Wells.”

However, Assistant Attorney General Heather Cherniske, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant Attorney General Jesse O’Neill, told the jury “there is no question the defendant was the person who sold Nick that deadly fentanyl. The defendant admitted it to police,” Cherniske said, emphasizing the point.

According to the prosecution’s timeline of the events of June 19-20, Luna was the last person to see Wells alive – when he arrived at the Wells residence just before midnight June 19 after allegedly agreeing to “make a house call” to sell Wells drugs.

Prosecutors are describing the relationship between Luna and Wells as “drug dealer and customer,” an apparent attempt to discount the defense’s position that Wells had been buying drugs from as many as three other dealers.

That information, Gouthro said in his opening statement, surfaced more than four months after Wells’s death, when Pelham police sent Wells’s two cell phones to Salem police, who have the technology that allows them to search phones for details not available in conventional searches.

The results showed that Wells, in addition to text messages, used other means of communication, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, Gouthro said.

When investigators looked through the information, he said, they found Wells was “communicating with at least three other people about buying drugs.

“That’s confirmation to you that Nicholas Wells had another dealer,” Gouthro told the jury.

Cherniske, meanwhile, pointed out to the jurors that the state does not have to prove Luna “wanted (Wells) to die … (or) that he intended for him to die,” in order to convict him.

What the state needs to prove to convict Luna, Cherniske continued, is that Luna “knowingly gave (Wells) fentanyl, that he took that fentanyl, and that fentanyl caused his death.

“And that’s exactly what the state will prove to you.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DeanS.