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Overdose victim’s parents offer forgiveness at manslaughter sentencing

Updated May 26, 2022 - 7:16 pm

Adrianna Folks would have forgiven the friend who sold her the fentanyl-laced pills that killed her, the victim’s parents said Thursday.

The parents addressed District Judge Tierra Jones during a sentencing hearing for Aria Styron, 21, who pleaded guilty in March to voluntary manslaughter for selling the laced oxycodone pills to Folks.

“Your honor, I would like Aria to know that I forgive her, and that I know Adrianna forgives her, too,” said Folks’ mother, Sara Brandt. “Adrianna would want her father and I to show her grace because that is her heart, and that is who she is.”

Styron is one of nearly a dozen people in Clark County who have been charged with murder in connection with an overdose death. The charges have yet to result in a murder conviction, with several suspects, such as Styron, pleading guilty to manslaughter charges.

But Styron’s case stands out, her defense attorney said, because it involved a friend group of young adults barely out of childhood. Four of those young adults died of overdoses during a five-month period that began in October 2020, part of the growing number of fentanyl deaths that have marred Nevada in recent years.

“When you look at Aria, you’re left looking at a girl who has no more friends alive,” defense attorney Augustus Claus told the judge on Thursday. “… You’re looking at, your honor, the last child standing.”

Jones said the case was “nothing short of a tragedy,” but that she heavily considered the testimony from Folks’ parents when deciding if Styron should serve time in prison. Prosecutors argued for her to receive a sentence of three to eight years behind bars.

“I know sending the defendant to prison is not going to solve the fentanyl crisis in this community, but I am asking the court to send a message,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Tina Talim said.

But instead of imposing prison time, the judge sentenced Styron to no more than three years of probation, after she serves about 148 days in the Clark County Detention Center.

“That will give you a head start on your sobriety before you enter outpatient drug treatment,” Jones said.

Styron’s hair covered her face as she stood, hunched over and sobbing, throughout the hearing.

Multiple deaths

Claus said Styron had sold drugs on Snapchat to support her own addiction. The young woman had a history of mental health problems, and grew up in and out of foster care. She started using drugs at age 11, the attorney said.

Styron also first attempted suicide at 11, and her mother introduced her to methamphetamine when she was 13, Claus wrote in court documents.

In October 2020, Styron’s boyfriend, identified as Austin Peters, died of an overdose, according to police documents. Folks’ boyfriend, Eric Dos Santos, was found dead of an overdose three months later.

On March 4, 2021, after Folks had not responded to messages or emerged from her room for hours, her father kicked down her door.

Folks’ body lay on the ground, her hand clutching a lighter. A blue pill and residue from the drugs were inside a shoe near her head.

Bryan Folks said Thursday that he was lucky he got to spend 21 years with his daughter. At the time of her death, she had just completed two semesters of college with a 4.0 GPA. Her parents said they couldn’t have been prouder.

“I want to set the record straight and say our daughter was loved and adored by her parents, her family and her friends,” Bryan Folks said. “She was a wonderful human being.”

Days before her death, Adrianna Folks told another friend, 20-year-old Avianna Cavanaugh, that she was searching for oxycodone, and Cavanaugh told her that Styron was selling, according to police documents.

Meanwhile, Cavanaugh’s own drug usage was becoming so concerning that her relatives held an intervention on March 17, 2021. But less than 24 hours later, she also died of an overdose.

In February, prosecutors charged 23-year-old Christopher Gonzalez and 24-year-old Tylar Hager with second-degree murder in connection with Cavanaugh’s death, and alleged that Gonzalez sold her the fatal drugs.

Hager agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to violate the Uniform Controlled Substances Act after testifying against Gonzalez during a grand jury hearing in March, court records show. A jury trial for Gonzalez is scheduled for October.

Styron’s defense attorney said Thursday that she is not linked to the three other deaths surrounding her circle of friends. The Metropolitan Police Department launched investigations into the deaths of Adrianna Folks’ and Styron’s boyfriends, but no charges have been filed.

‘A love like no other’

Adrianna Folks’ parents emphasized on Thursday that she fiercely loved her friends and family.

Brandt said her daughter was a passionate woman who loved animals, reading and painting. She made sure her friends had presents every birthday and holiday, and was known to bring home stray animals.

“If you were lucky enough to be loved by Adrianna, it was a love like no other,” Brandt said.

The victim’s father also said he held no resentment toward Styron. He said he hopes Styron will get the treatment and help she needs “to have a good life.”

“If she’s able to do so, we know that means our daughter didn’t die in vain,” Bryan Folks said.

Instead of directing his anger at the woman who admitted to causing his daughter’s death, Bryan Folks lambasted the growing fentanyl epidemic in Nevada and Clark County.

The number of fentanyl-related fatal overdoses in Clark County exploded from 16 in 2015, to 219 deaths in 2020. Last year, 10 of the 227 fentanyl-related deaths were of children under 18, according to Metro stats.

“It breaks my heart that the country that I live in, the country that I love, the country that I believe is the greatest country in the world, let this happen,” Bryan Folks said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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