TAMPA — In Hillsborough County, Andrew Warren’s name has become synonymous with criminal justice reform. It’s the running theme since he took office in 2017. That includes progressive polices like arrest avoidance and treatment programs for those who commit certain offenses, including some drug crimes.
But now comes the case of Katie Golden, a 17-year-old Plant High School senior who died of a heroin overdose almost three years ago. Her case became emblematic of the larger opioid crisis gripping the nation. And for Warren, it has marked a decidedly tough turn amid the broader conversation about reform.
In a news conference Thursday, Warren announced that a grand jury had returned an indictment for first-degree murder against the man his office says is responsible for Golden’s death.
Garland Ryan Layton, who goes by the nickname Yoda, was arrested last week and remains jailed on $252,000 bail.
“Today Hillsborough County is a little bit safer as we’ve taken a heroin dealer who sold to kids out of our community,” Warren said.
He acknowledged the unusual nature of the case. It is rare that prosecutors seek homicide charges involving an accidental overdose, rarer still that the charge is the highest degree of murder.
But Warren called it “an innovative approach" to protecting kids and holding accountable those “who sell this poison in our streets.”
He made the announcement outside Plant High School. With him were Golden’s parents, Cliff and Dawn Golden. They wore tie-dyed ribbons in her memory.
Cliff Golden spoke briefly, expressing support for the state attorney and his handling of their daughter’s case.
“We’re glad that he’s working with us,” he said.
Layton, 36, is the second person the state has sought to hold responsible for Golden’s death. Warren’s office previously accused Titan Goodson, Golden’s one-time boyfriend, of manslaughter.
Goodson and Golden were together April 14, 2017, the day before she died. He later told police that they had snorted heroin together that evening. The following morning, Goodson said he awoke in his grandparents’ Harbour Island condominium to find Golden unresponsive.
He was set to face trial before a last-minute plea deal. Goodson agreed to plead guilty to evidence tampering and drug possession, and to cooperate with the state in exchange for prosecutors dropping the manslaughter charge.
Layton was arrested hours after the deal was finalized. An arrest affidavit states that Goodson identified him as the person from whom he and Golden purchased heroin.
He was charged under a seldom-invoked portion of Florida law that allows that state to seek murder charges against a person who supplies heroin that causes an overdose.
Because it is a first-degree murder charge, Warren’s office has the option of seeking the death penalty. But Warren said Thursday it is unlikely he will pursue capital punishment in this case.
“We can never bring back the precious life that has been lost," he said, “but we can hold accountable those responsible for her death.”