ALLENTOWN, Pa. | The defense attorney for a man accused of providing a fatal dose of fentanyl argues prosecutors have little more than the testimony from the first man charged in the victim’s death.
Bethlehem police charged Miguel A. Torres, of Vera Circle in Bethlehem, in connection with the December 2019 overdose death of Isaiah Cruz. Investigators allege the 33-year-old provided the phony Percocet to Robert Favinger Jr., who sold it to the victim.
Authorities charged Torres with single felony counts of drug delivery resulting in death and possession with intent to deliver. Following a contentious preliminary hearing Friday, District Judge Patricia Engler found that the prosecution made it prima facie case and sent the charges to Lehigh County Court.
Just before 3 a.m. Dec. 3, 2019, a Bethlehem police officer was flagged down at Hayes and East Third streets for an apparent overdose victim in a car. Cruz was taken to St. Luke’s University Hospital in Fountain Hill, where he was pronounced dead just before 4 a.m.
Investigators with the Bethlehem Police Department said a review of Cruz’s cell phone turned up text messages between him and Favinger in the days just prior to Cruz’s death, according to court records.
On Friday, Favinger testified that he had known Torres for about a year at the time of Cruz’s death, and that he regularly bought drugs from Torres. Favinger told the court that he bought “Percocet 30s” from Torres on Dec. 2, 2019 – the day before the victim’s death – and sold one to Cruz about two hours later.
It was during defense attorney James Burke’s cross-examination of Favinger that the proceedings became heated.
Burke grilled Favinger about whether he had any other dealers than Torres, saying he found it difficult to believe that an addict would have only one supplier. Chief Deputy District Attorney Joseph Stauffer objected repeatedly to the line of questioning, arguing that Favinger had testified Torres was his only dealer and sold him the fatal dose.
But Burke repeatedly pressed the issue, noting that the defense in this type of case is proving that the defendant delivered a specific tablet that killed the victim. Also key to Burke’s attack against the prosecution’s case were questions about any communications between Favinger and Torres and statements made by someone who claimed to witness Torres giving Cruz the fentanyl.
Favinger testified that he’d arranged to buy the drugs from Torres and texted Cruz about selling the pills.
Det. Blake Kuntz testified that investigators found 16 text messages between Favinger and Cruz on Dec. 1 and 2, but authorities didn’t find any messages between Favinger and Torres.
“So, did he do smoke signals to get a hold of my client?” Burke said.
Authorities said Favinger’s cousin initially told investigators that he saw Torres hand Cruz the pill only to immediately change his story that it was indeed Favinger who gave the victim the pill. And Burke noted that the cousin wasn’t even in Favinger’s Brookside Drive home in Bethlehem, when Torres allegedly delivered the phony Percocets.
Anthony Raisner testified that he was with Cruz hours before his overdose. He told the court that Cruz came to his house in Allentown, where he snorted two lines of a blue powdery substance and slept for hours. He said he didn’t see Cruz crush any tablets.
Burke questioned Kuntz about two interviews he conducted with Favinger, questioning whether he even mentioned Torres until after he was charged in Cruz’s death.
In January 2020, Kuntz said he interviewed Favinger and clarified that he “referenced” Torres. It wasn’t until November, however, that Favinger “identified with clarity” that Torres was the source of the fentanyl, Kuntz testified. And in between those two interviews is when Favinger was charged and sent to county jail, Burke said.
Kuntz said Favinger testified he was hesitant and scared to reveal his supplier. In response to a question from the defense, Kuntz testified that investigators didn’t find any of the phony Percocet tablets.
“The whole case is built on the credibility of Mr. Favinger,” Burke said after ending his cross-examination of Kuntz.
Burke said he wouldn’t challenge whether the prosecution made its prima facie case because witness credibility is not an issue for a preliminary hearing.
At his arraignment in February, bail was set at $75,000 with a 10 percent cash option. Torres remains free on bail after someone posted $7,500 cash on his behalf. His next court date is a formal arraignment scheduled for July 27.