FORT WORTH — Eric Kay, the former communications director for the Los Angeles Angels, was sentenced Tuesday to 22 years in prison after being found guilty in February of supplying the drugs that caused pitcher Tyler Skaggs’ death in 2019.
District Judge Terry Means said he exceeded the minimum 20-year sentence Kay faced for making remarks he made in prison.
Prosecutors played a recording of a phone call in prison in which Kay, whose calls were monitored and recorded, said of Skaggs: “I hope people realize what a bastard he is. … Well, he’s dead, so fuck him.”
Means said he dreaded sentencing Kay, 48, who was convicted of drug distribution resulting in death because he felt mandatory minimums were “exaggerated”. But the judge said the jail talks showed a “refusal to take responsibility and even show remorse for something you caused”.
In his own remarks, Kay apologized for spitting “dishes” at Skaggs, prosecutors and the jury in this and other prison correspondence.
“I wanted to blame Tyler for all of this,” Kay said, calling his words “so wrong and lazy.”
The emotional sentencing hearing marked a somber end to this phase of a legal saga that began when 27-year-old Skaggs was found dead in a Southlake, Texas hotel room on July 1, 2019, with oxycodone and fentanyl in his system. Kay has indicated he will appeal his conviction.
Kay, like Skaggs, was an illicit opioid user. During Kay’s trial in February, witnesses, including several Major League Baseball players, said he shared black-market painkillers with them, though the government has not claimed he did so for profit.
Federal Attorney Erinn Martin stated that Kay was in Skagg’s hotel room when he choked on his own vomit – a claim based on key card evidence – and that he did not try to save the pitcher because “he freaked out and decided to save himself and his job” or because he was unable to work himself.
Martin said Tuesday Kay knew the drugs he gave Skaggs were “probably or potentially counterfeit” and could contain fentanyl.
Kay, who did not stand in his own defense during the trial, did not directly address the government’s version of events Tuesday, but expressed remorse for his actions and blamed his addiction.
“I’m going to spend the rest of my days in repairs,” said Kay, who wore orange jumpsuits and was shackled in arm and leg cuffs, during remarks that sometimes made him sob.
The Skaggs family members said in their own testimony in court that Kay was responsible for the pitcher’s death.
“Eric Kay knew the drugs he was giving my son and other players [were] spiked with fentanyl,” said Debbie, Skaggs’ mother, adding that “a severe punishment … has the power to dissuade people from giving deadly drugs to others.”
“I truly believe that those who risk the lives of others with killer drugs must be held accountable,” said Carli, Skaggs’ widow. “If anything good can come of Tyler’s death and this trial, it will prevent someone else’s wife from answering the call I made.”
“I know no matter how much time Eric Kay gets, it’s not going to bring Tyler back,” Skaggs’ father Darrell said in a statement released to Tyler’s aunt in court. “But the longer he’s locked up, the safer everyone is.”
Kay, who grew up in upper-middle class Southern California and was educated at Pepperdine University before earning a six-figure salary with the Angels, had no criminal record. But Martin, the prosecutor, said Kay’s prison correspondence was evidence he hadn’t learned his lesson.
In emails and phone calls, Kay referred to the “trash-ass Skaggs family,” taunted jurors as “rednecks” with missing teeth, and cited a federal prosecutor’s “horrific makeup.” Martin also noted that Kay was allegedly caught using Suboxone in prison.
“Someone like that gets off to a criminal start again,” Martin said. “Eric Kay will not stop.”
Kay’s attorney, Cody Cofer, said his client’s statements in prison reflected the resentment of a man who has come to terms with being separated from his family for two decades. “The idea that he’s likely to re-offend just isn’t supported,” Cofer said.
Means said Kay should be locked up near his home in California, where he has three sons, the youngest of whom is 12. Kay’s middle child, 20-year-old Carter, said during the hearing that his father “wouldn’t do anything bad willingly” and urged the judge to be lenient.
“My little brother needs him the most,” Carter Kay said. “I haven’t seen him smile in a long time.”
The Skaggs family has filed a lawsuit against Kay and the Angels, alleging that the team “knew or should have known” that Kay was a drug user and that placing it near athletes playing through injuries created a “perfect.” storm” which resulted in the pitcher’s death.
The family is represented by Texas attorney Rusty Hardin.
“Today’s sentencing is not about the number of years the defendant received,” a family spokesman said after the verdict. “The real problem in this case is holding accountable the people distributing the deadly drug fentanyl.”
The Angels have denied the allegations in the family’s lawsuit. A spokesman for Angels said in a statement Tuesday that “our condolences go out to the Skaggs family on this difficult day.”
Since Kay’s trial, one of his attorneys, Reagan Wynn, has been suspended from practice after a Texas bar panel found that he had “failed to explain” the facts of his criminal case to another client. At a May hearing in Kay’s case, his other then-attorney, Michael Molfetta, appeared to blame Wynn for leaving Kay without representation during a meeting with parole officers prior to his sentencing.
“I was always part of a probation group email, and I mistakenly — and it’s my fault — just assumed Reagan would take care of it,” Molfetta told a judge. “I would text Mr. Wynn and say, ‘Hey, you got that?’ And throughout our representation, he doesn’t seem to like texts because he never really got back to me.”
Molfetta has also since left the case. In an interview with The Washington Post, Sandy Kay said her son received a poor legal defense.
“Tyler Skaggs was a grown man who made a willful decision to engage in dangerous behavior that ended in his death,” said Sandra Kay. “And holding someone else accountable for that is a great injustice.”