O’Kelly acquitted of murder in 2014 overdose case

By: 
Ryan Phillips
SDN Editor

A Madison man has been acquitted of second-degree murder by the state Court of Appeals following the drug-related death of a Mississippi State student in 2014.

The Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that Skylar O’Kelly would be acquitted of the second-degree murder charge, while the court affirmed his conviction on a single count of drug trafficking.

An Oktibbeha County jury convicted O’Kelly of the two counts in 2016, following the death of 22-year-old Thomas Parker Rodenbaugh in August 2014, after he ingested two tabs of the designer drug 25B-NBOMe, a controlled substance referred to at trial as “synthetic LSD.”

O’Kelly, who was 21 at the time, claimed to have taken two tabs of the drug himself and gave one to his younger brother, Daylin Deveaeux O’Kelly, who was also charged with possession of a controlled substance immediately following Rodenbaugh’s death.

SPD responded to the call in the 100 block of North Nash Street at around 2 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 10, 2014 and found Rodenbaugh unresponsive after friends had called for an ambulance. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful and he was later pronounced dead at OCH Regional Medical Center from what police believed to have been a drug overdose.

Court documents say that on the night of Aug. 9, 2014, O’Kelly and his brother were at O’Kelly’s apartment in Starkville and left around 9 p.m. to go to a house where Rodenbaugh lived with four other Mississippi State students.

O’Kelly and Rodenbaugh graduated from high school together and O’Kelly testified under oath that the two were “best friends.”

He then said Rodenbaugh asked him around 10 p.m. that night if O’Kelly “wanted to trip,” referring to taking the synthetic LSD. O’Kelly then left the residence and went back to his apartment to retrieve five tabs of the drug and returned, before he took two hits himself, gave one to his brother and two to Rodenbaugh.

After a series of events where Rodenbaugh began to act erratically, his roommates did not call 911 until he began to turn to blue. When paramedics arrived, their attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead.

Dr. Lisa Funte, a forensic pathologist from the State Medical Examiner’s Office, later identified the cause of death as resulting from the toxic effects of NBOMe. She would later testify at trial that the potent drug has been linked to death at “very, very low levels,” and that the effects are highly unpredictable.

She then explained under oath that although a person “might take the drugs several times and be fine,” a single dose can lead to cardiac arrhythmias, muscle tissue breakdown, acute kidney failure, multi-organ system failure, and death.

Following Rodenbaugh’s death, an investigation into O’Kelly resulted in the recovery of two sheets of NBOMe in 1/4" x 1/4" perforated squares in a bag in O’Kelly’s closet, which O’Kelly had described to police.

According to court documents, the drug was made a controlled substance by the DEA in November 2013.

The sheets contained approximately 425 squares or hits.

In January 2015, O’Kelly was indicted for trafficking a controlled substance and one count of second-degree or “depraved-heart” murder.

Following a jury trial and conviction, O’Kelly was sentenced to concurrent terms of 10 years for drug trafficking and 20 years in prison for “depraved-heart murder.”

The state appeals court ruled that the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to support a conviction for either depraved-heart murder or the lesser-included offense of culpable-negligence manslaughter, which resulted in the acquittal.

The court then remanded the case for re-sentencing on the trafficking conviction.

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