TAMPA — Plant High School senior Katie Golden’s death in 2017 forced the legal system to wrestle with who holds the blame in the case of a fatal overdose.
At first, nobody was charged. Police ruled the 17-year-old’s death an accident. But more than 18 months after the incident, prosecutors changed course and charged her one-time boyfriend, Titan Goodson, with manslaughter.
They believed they could prove he supplied her with the lethal dose of heroin and didn’t do enough to help her when she went into medical distress.
But Thursday, just four days before he was set to stand trial, prosecutors struck a deal with Goodson. He appeared in court — in a bright orange jail uniform, hands cuffed and legs chained together — to plead guilty to evidence tampering and drug possession. The manslaughter charge was dropped.
Goodson answered “yeah” as Hillsborough Circuit Judge Samantha Ward asked if he could read and write English and if he understood what was happening. She sentenced Goodson to 364 days in the Hillsborough County Jail, followed by 10 years of probation.
Golden’s parents, Cliff and Dawn Golden, declined to offer victim impact statements.
It was unclear what led to the plea agreement or whether it was the end of prosecutors’ bid for justice in Golden’s death. Golden’s parents did not comment after the hearing. Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, who sat at the prosecutors’ table during the hearing, said he could not divulge if his office will charge anybody else in Golden’s death or if Goodson must testify as part of his plea deal.
Golden’s parents never liked Goodson. He lived with his grandparents, lawyer Sherman Brod and his wife Sandra, in their Harbour Island condominium — in part because of Goodson’s father’s history of substance abuse. The then-teen had his own bedroom, where he stayed with the door shut. His grandmother told investigators she suspected he used drugs in there, but never caught him with any.
Both Goodson’s parents have drug arrests on their records.
The Goldens thought Goodson was a bad influence on their daughter, the youngest of three and a high school cheerleader with plans to study social work at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne. She had a history of substance abuse, but her parents told the Tampa Bay Times they never thought she’d do heroin.
Yet in the early hours of April 15, 2017, Golden lay in the Harbour Island condo with ice packed around her body to keep her cool as she overdosed. She was unconscious and not breathing when Goodson’s grandfather called 911. By the time she arrived at the hospital, she was comatose, having suffered severe brain damage. Medical personnel managed to keep Golden’s heart beating.
She never recovered, and three days later she was taken off life support.
Goodson was charged with manslaughter in October 2018. When investigators went to take him into custody, they found him with heroin and buprenorphine. That set off another criminal case in which he was charged with two counts of drug possession.
Last month, prosecutors tacked on another charge: evidence tampering. Goodson was accused of withholding Golden’s cell phone from investigators.
Even though Goodson has been incarcerated since his 2018 arrest on the manslaughter charge, he won’t get credit for time served in jail because the manslaughter charged was dropped. Instead, he only received credit for time served starting Feb. 18, the date he was charged with evidence tampering.
After the judge confirmed the details of the plea agreement and Goodson’s sentence, prosecutors asked her to address another matter — that of a missing necklace. Goodson had taken and pawned a necklace that belonged to Golden and was a family heirloom, prosecutors said. Goodson’s grandfather later bought the necklace back from the pawn broker for $72.
Ward ordered the jewelry be returned to Golden’s parents.
Golden’s parents, composed during the hearing, succumbed to tears at the news they would receive the necklace.