FORT WORTH, Texas -- Tyler Skaggs' mother painted a portrait Wednesday of the late Los Angeles Angels pitcher as a loving son who first struggled with a Percocet "issue" in 2013.
Debbie Hetman appeared as a prosecution witness in the federal criminal case against former Angels communications director Eric Kay, providing emotional testimony on a day that otherwise was filled largely with dry technical details.
Hetman said she was angry that Kay was the last person to see her son alive and that "someone" could have saved him and didn't. There has been no evidence presented that Kay was indeed the last person to see Skaggs, or that anyone had a chance to revive him.
Kay is charged with distributing opioids and causing Skaggs' opioid-related death in July 2019 while on a road trip to Texas. An autopsy found that Skaggs had oxycodone, fentanyl and grain alcohol in his system when he asphyxiated on his vomit. Kay's attorneys have described their client as an addict who frequently bought and used drugs with Skaggs, not a dealer. The government says Kay distributed opioids to several Angels players -- who are expected to take the witness stand this week -- and gave Skaggs the fentanyl that the prosecution says caused his death.
Hetman said Skaggs first discussed a problem with Percocet, a prescription opioid painkiller, in 2013, and that he quit "cold turkey" at the time.
Jurors were shown photos of Skaggs' lifeless body for the first time, including close-ups of his purplish face, which rested face down in a small pool of blood on his hotel bed. Hetman and her husband were in court for the testimony but were seated in a part of the courtroom where the photos could not be seen. She listened tensely with her left hand at her mouth as a police detective clinically and unemotionally described the details of the scene.
The day began with cross-examination of Skaggs' onetime teammate Andrew Heaney, who admitted on the stand that he smoked marijuana with Skaggs and that a number of players use opioid painkillers.
Defense attorney Michael Molfetta asked, "A lot of guys go outside of team doctors for those drugs, yes?" Heaney responded, "I don't know how many. It's safe to say there's at least a few."
Prosecutors objected when Molfetta first asked Heaney about marijuana use, but Judge Terry R. Means allowed Molfetta to proceed. That decision could be an ominous precedent for the players, such as former All-Star Matt Harvey, who are expected to testify about their own alleged drug use.
Heaney had testified Tuesday that he was not aware that Skaggs used drugs. But during the cross-examination Wednesday, Molfetta also asked Heaney about a text he had sent to Skaggs saying, "you're really geetered right now." Asked what "geetered" meant, Heaney said it was "kind of a term for being high, I guess." When Molfetta quoted the Urban Dictionary as saying it meant being high on methamphetamine, Heaney said he was not aware of that specific definition.
The defense has signaled for some time that it will portray Skaggs as a frequent partier and drug user who is responsible for his own death. After asking Heaney about drug use, Molfetta started to ask whether Skaggs had ever done anything "inappropriate" with a woman besides his wife, but this time when prosecutors objected, Means put a stop to the questions. Heaney blurted out "No" as prosecutors objected.
One potentially interesting issue came out of Hetman's testimony: The possibility that a family member deleted texts from Skaggs' phone while it was in police custody, and before it was turned over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Hetman said during direct questioning that her family flew to Texas after Skaggs' death "to see Tyler and figure out what the hell happened." While the family was at the Southlake Police Department to retrieve Skaggs' belongings, police asked her to help unlock his phone. Hetman said that after some debate within the family, she and her husband decided to cooperate, and she correctly guessed Skaggs' passcode. She said her stepson, Garet Ramos, then took the phone and changed the passcode, "probably because I knew it," while Southlake police looked on.
During cross-examination, Molfetta asked Hetman whether she was aware that Ramos had deleted texts from Skaggs' phone, the first time such an accusation has been raised publicly. She said she was not. Molfetta then asked whether she knew where Ramos lived, because the defense team wants to reach him. She said he lived in Phoenix but she was not sure of his address.
Ramos, 32, is listed as a government witness. After court was adjourned for the day, Molfetta's co-counsel, Reagan Wynn, met with Hetman's attorneys who have been attending the trial, to ask for their help in locating Ramos "so we don't have to spend $50,000 tracking him down." Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Beran was part of the conversation.
Asked as he left the courthouse whether the defense had indeed had trouble finding Ramos, Molfetta said, "We'd like to talk to him." Asked whether Kay's team had sought a subpoena for his testimony, Molfetta said, "Not yet."
The Skaggs family is suing the Angels for negligence in his death, and attorneys representing them have been in court along with a lawyer for the Angels to keep an eye on the criminal trial.
The trial resumes Thursday morning and is expected to last two weeks.