He wanted to ease his best friend’s pain. The fentanyl-laced pills killed the father of 2

The mother of two faced a judge Thursday and said she no longer hates her husband’s best friend, but she isn’t ready to offer forgiveness.

She knows her husband, a prescription drug abuser, wouldn’t want her to be angry with the man who gave him the pills that killed him.

She knows he would want what’s best for his friend with since fourth-grade, and he wouldn’t blame him for what happened just days before Halloween 2017.

She knows her husband has already forgiven Jubentino “Tino” Soto Jr.

But the woman — still grieving her 35-year-old husband’s overdose death two years later — told Soto that he needs to get better and “earn your life” before she can do the same.

That starts with serving five years in a federal prison for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl.

“There isn’t anything I can say about (Ross Bartholomew) that you don’t already know. You knew him just as well, if not better than I did,” the woman told Soto during an emotional 45-minute sentencing in U.S. District Court in Richland.

“I was so angry at first, knowing you didn’t help him (as) he was trying to stay clean. Knowing he had just gotten home from treatment. Knowing he had a wife and two little boys,” she added. “But then I realized it was not you, but him.”

The Kennewick father had serious back problems from his work and had turned to opioids to combat the pain.

He was found unresponsive in his bathroom one night in October 2017 after taking two fentanyl-laced pills, or “Mexis.” Paramedics were unable to revive him.

A doctor later determined that he “would not have died but for the fentanyl” that was mixed with acetaminophen in the pills he took.

2 charged with distributing drugs

Soto was one of two men indicted by a federal grand jury for distributing the drugs that resulted in his death.

It was the first case of its kind in the Tri-Cities to be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Both Soto, 34, and co-defendant Hector M. Medina, 37, pleaded guilty earlier this year to the amended charge of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl.

Fentanyl mexis
Multiple “mexis” of fentanyl tablets were seized recently in the Tri-Cities as part of a criminal investigation involving the distribution of the dangerous drug. Kennewick Police Department

Medina of Kennewick was sentenced in August to 15 years.

Federal prosecutors said he was the drug dealer who supplied Soto and other people. Soto then provided the pills to Bartholomew.

All three men reportedly were dealing with severe opioid addictions at the time of his death.

Soto, 34, was facing 14 to 17 1/2 years in prison. He had no criminal history.

Since the Pasco man was lower on the supply chain and must live with his friend’s death forever, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Van Marter recommended a three-year, five-month term, which was below the guideline range.

Lawyer Gregory Scott of Yakima asked for three years behind bars.

Sorry for decisions made

Soto apologized and said no day goes by that he doesn’t think about how the choice he made killed his best friend and tore both families apart.

He said he wishes he could talk to his friend and tell him he’s sorry for the decisions he made, including how it took Bartholomew away from raising his two boys.

Judge Sal Mendoza Jr. concluded that both sentencing recommendations did not reflect the seriousness of the crime, and ordered the five years.

It may have been Bartholomew’s decision to take those pills, but Soto facilitated it, said Mendoza.

Soto was trying to support his own habit by “putting this poison out into the community,” and not just to his friend.

His story is similar to many others who get hooked on pills: They are injured in some type of accident and a doctor prescribes the drugs thinking they will help with the pain, but the pills end up creating a pain for both the patient and the community, said the judge.

“It’s simple to think, ‘Oh I’m just going to hand him some pills. It will be $10, $20, $30 bucks for me, and I’m going to help out my friend,’” he said. “Not realizing that what you’re doing is destroying your life and destroying the life of others.”

“And that’s what someone else is doing right this second, thinking ‘Oh I’m going to help my friend out.’”

Mendoza said he wanted to ensure the public is protected and deter others from engaging in this conduct.

Suffering his own addiction

He also recognized that Soto has been suffering through his own addiction while dealing with this case.

Soto has been in custody since late January because he violated court orders to stop taking drugs. The judge recommended he participate in a substance abuse treatment program while incarcerated.

“I think all said, there is no amount of punishment the court can give you to bring back Mr. Bartholomew,” said Mendoza. “You said yourself you would trade places with him in a second, and I believe that.

“That does not change the fact that he is not here,” he added. “Because of your conduct, partly, he is not here.”

The judge wished Soto the best in prison, which will be followed by a three-year term of supervised release.

“You are a young man. You are a man who has the ability to do much good in this world, and it’s within your ability, your skill to change the path of your life,” said Mendoza. “You have that ability. It all will depend on whether you choose to take the right path or not.

“It’s not over after this sentence. You can change your life, and I hope you do that.”

Soto and Bartholomew each had a half-dozen relatives and friends in federal court on Thursday.

The prosecutor noted that the date was “somewhat symbolic” for both families, who once were very close. It was 10 years ago on Oct. 3 that the Sotos helped his friend’s family bury his adult sister.

And Friday, Oct. 4, is the second birthday of Bartholomew’s youngest son. He was a newborn when his dad died, and only knows him through pictures, family said.

After the hearing, Soto’s mother and other loved ones hugged Bartholomew’s parents and wife and offered their own apologies.

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.