When Kirsten Lippold awoke to the shrill ring of her cell phone on August 17, 2015, she had no idea that taking the call would destroy two lives.
"Please, I'm so sick," begged the caller. "Please, can I come see you?"
Her name was Jennifer and she was suffering from heroin withdrawal. Lippold herself had struggled with heroin addiction for twenty-five years, and her heart went out to the woman. The two were neighbors, but had never actually met.
"Of course," Lippold replied. "Come on over." She later sent Jennifer a confirmation text.
Less than an hour later, Jennifer came to the apartment, an old Section 8 housing complex in Boulder, Colorado. This is where Lippold, forty-five years old, lived alone, barely getting by on her monthly $189 disability check. She'd been on disability since 2006, when a brain injury nearly killed her. It took months of therapy for her to learn how to walk and talk again.
To assuage the withdrawal symptoms, Lippold gave Jennifer less than a gram of heroin from her own personal-use supply. She wasn't a regular dealer, but occasionally she sold off some of her own supply to friends. Jennifer paid $40 and left immediately. The next knock Lippold received on her apartment door occurred later that day. It was the police.
"I opened the door and someone from the Boulder [County] Drug Task Force was there," Lippold recalls. "He told me that Jennifer had died of an overdose and they were conducting an investigation. He said not to worry, that nothing would happen to me as long as I cooperated and told the investigators who I bought my heroin from. I was scared. So I told them."
Nearly two years later, on the morning of July 17, 2017, the agent from the Boulder County Drug Task Force was back again. This time, he had several federal agents and officers from the Boulder Police Department in tow. The officers arrested Lippold and charged her with "distribution of heroin resulting in death"--a charge that in Colorado can carry a minimum sentence of twenty years to life.
"My chin hit the floor," Lippold says. "[They] told me to get my meds together and they took me to the federal courthouse in Denver."
The judge, recognizing that Lippold's disability made her unlikely to flee, released her without bail; a trial date was set for 2018. Lippold went home, contemplating the idea of decades to life in prison for the death of a woman she had barely known.
"I helped her because of my own addiction," says Lippold, who starts to sob over the phone as she speaks to me from prison. "I understood. She was begging me because she was so sick." She feels bad for Jennifer and her family, but wonders why she should also have to lose her life.
Lippold eventually pled guilty and on August 2,2018, was sentenced to ten years in prison.
"My whole life is gone," she says, still crying. It is hard to hear her over the tinny sound of the jail phone. "I break out in blisters because I have been so stressed. Behind my back, people treat me like I am a murderer. I am so sorry Jen died, but I never meant for that to happen."
The charge against Lippold, "distribution of heroin resulting in death," falls under a broad category of drug-induced homicide laws that are increasingly being utilized in the United States to...