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Jury Deems Heroin Supplier Guilty in Fatal Overdose of West Knoxville Woman

A jury on Thursday convicted a drug dealer of second-degree murder for selling to a middleman heroin that proved deadly for a West Knoxville woman.

A jury in Knox County Criminal Court on Thursday deemed Kenyon Reynolds, 43, criminally responsible for the July 2015 heroin overdose death of Jessica Lyday, 30.

In addition to the second-degree murder conviction, Reynolds also was found guilty of related charges including possession of heroin within 1,000 feet of Rocky Hill Elementary School, delivery of heroin within 1,000 feet of a park and unlawful possession of a gun.

Judge Bob McGee set an April 27 sentencing hearing. Reynolds faces a penalty range of 15 to 25 years on the murder conviction and minimum mandatory sentencing on the school-zone drug charges.

One Rung up the Distribution Ladder

There is a special provision of the law that makes it second-degree murder if a death results from the “unlawful distribution” of especially dangerous drugs, including prescription opiates, cocaine and heroin, and prosecutors can link the fatal dose to a dealer.

In Reynolds’ case, though, it wasn’t Reynolds who sold the heroin to Lyday. It was her ex-boyfriend, Justin F. Lee, who also is charged with second-degree murder in her death but cooperated in Knoxville Police Department Investigator Phil Jinks’ probe and testified against Reynolds.

Defense attorney Clinton Frazier had argued Lee, not Reynolds, was responsible for Lyday’s death. But prosecutors Hector Sanchez and Ken Irvine countered that the law holds accountable anyone in the drug distribution chain – including a dealer’s supplier.

Reynolds delivered a blow to Frazier’s defense strategy when, on Wednesday, he insisted on testifying and admitted he sold Lee the heroin the prosecutors said Lee then sold to Lyday. At times tearful and other times yelling, Reynolds painted himself a victim in a monologue from the witness stand.

“This is the first y’all ever laid eyes on me,” Reynolds told jurors. “My life is on the line. Whenever you point a finger (of blame) at me, you got three pointing back at you. I just had to get that off my chest.”

Overpowering Addiction

Lyday was in her third year at the University of Tennessee when she became addicted to prescription painkillers and later turned to heroin, a cheaper alternative in the wake of the opioid epidemic.

Jessica Lyday died at the age of 30 from a heroin overdose in July 2015 in West Knoxville.

She had twice gone through short-term treatment to no avail and was readying for an interview with a long-term, faith-based program in Nashville on the night of her death. Testimony showed she packed her bags for that trip but – overcome by her addiction – reached out to Lee for heroin.

Soon after injecting the drug inside her Westridge Drive home, Lyday fatally overdosed. Her mother found her the next morning.

Jinks and fellow investigators first identified Lee as the person who sold Lyday the heroin. Lee, in turn, identified Reynolds as his supplier. With police recording, Lee set up a heroin deal with Reynolds, who admitted Wednesday he took the $360 in marked bills Jinks had placed in Lee’s mailbox and left two grams of heroin for Lee in the same mailbox.

Police then followed Reynolds to his home on Morrell Road, where authorities discovered another 14 grams of heroin and just more than $43,000 in cash and a gun.

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