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Judge releases redacted court document in Griswold teen death case

More than a year and a half after Ramon Gomez was sentenced to eight years in prison for pimping out 17-year-old Olivia Roark and providing fentanyl-laced heroin that led to her fatal overdose in a Groton motel, a U.S. District Court judge has authorized release of a sentencing document in the case.

Judge Alvin W. Thompson ordered information pertaining to Gomez's cooperation with the government redacted from the sentencing memorandum written by court-appointed attorney Michael Sheehan and ordered that it be filed under a separate docket number referring to Gomez as "John Doe." 

The Washington, D.C.-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving and advancing the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press, had provided legal assistance to The Day in its efforts to obtain the document. Attorney Jennifer A. Nelson filed legal documents on behalf of The Day and argued the newspaper's case in a hearing in U.S. District Court in Hartford in January 2018.

When the judge had not issued a ruling by February 2019, Nelson filed a request for a ruling on behalf of The Day. Thompson granted the request on June 20.

"It's problematic that the court took this long to issue a decision, and this sentencing memorandum should have been public all along," Nelson said in a phone interview last week.

In federal court cases, United States prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers submit analyses of the crime, background information about the defendants and sentencing recommendations to sentencing judges. Courts repeatedly have held there is a constitutional right to sentencing memoranda, though Nelson said they are being withheld from public disclosure with more frequency. She said in Gomez's case, portions of the newly released sentencing memorandum were appropriately redacted to exclude information that could have jeopardized his safety.

The case served as an example of the government's practice of offering offenders leniency in order to obtain information that leads to additional arrests. Olivia Roark's parents, who will forever grieve the death of their only daughter on May 29, 2016, had asked that Gomez be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Though he faced up to life in prison for sex trafficking and heroin distribution, Gomez received a substantial sentence reduction by providing information to the government. His cooperation was not discussed on the record at his sentencing hearing, though the judge and attorneys appeared to have whispered about it during a lengthy sidebar.

The Day previously had reported on Gomez's cooperation based on a sentencing document filed by the prosecution and made public for a brief period of time on PACER.gov, the online service that provides public access to federal court records. The government later sealed its sentencing memorandum, saying it was made public due to a clerical error.

Gomez provided information about others involved in the case and was prepared to testify if the case went to trial, according to the government sentencing memorandum. The information led to at least two people being charged in state court along with the prosecution of an undisclosed number of other individuals federally and the identification of others involved who weren't charged, according to the motion.

The newly released defense sentencing memorandum starts off with a summary of the case that focuses on victim Olivia Roark's troubled life and drug use. In it, Gomez's attorney notes there's no proof that it was the heroin that had been provided by Gomez that caused Roark's death, since Gomez sold it to another prostitute who then gave heroin to Roark.

The sentencing memorandum indicates that Gomez, who was 41 at the time of his December 2017 sentencing, began using cocaine at age 21 and became addicted to opioids after receiving a prescription for an ankle injury in 2013. He began buying Percocet on the streets and then turned to heroin, according to the memorandum.

"Mr. Gomez's heroin use escalated rapidly and quickly set him down a dangerous path," reads one section of the document. "He began selling heroin to support his own habit. His desire and need to get high became one of the most important things in his life. His addiction took over his better judgment and caused him to make decisions that he looks back on with shame today."

Gomez had received drug treatment in prison and intended to work on obtaining his General Equivalency Diploma, according to the document. He planned to work with his father upon release from prison.

Gomez remains incarcerated, according to a Bureau of Prisons website.

k.florin@theday.com

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