A Hill District criminal was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for delivering the fentanyl that killed a Duquesne University student six years ago and for other drug and gun crimes.

U.S. District Judge David Cercone imposed that term on Deon Blair, 31, who immediately appealed.

His lawyer, Martin Dietz, said evidence at trial did not establish that the fentanyl killed the victim, only that it could have.

Prosecutors said that argument has no merit and that Blair’s drugs killed the man, Daniel Shaikh, who was found dead in his apartment in 2017.

Blair was convicted at a bench trial in July 2021 of distributing fentanyl resulting in death, distribution of heroin, conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and heroin and several gun crimes. He’s a felon and can’t have any guns, but he had one.

Blair had previously been convicted in state court of heroin trafficking and spent time in state prison.

His federal trial in 2021 lasted a single day. Cercone then convicted him of supplying the fentanyl that killed Shaikh.

He and a friend, Jerod Horne, bought heroin on Feb. 9, 2017, from a dealer Horne knew as “E,” which was Blair’s street name. Shaikh drove Horne to Dinwiddie Street, where Blair lived. Horne bought 10 stamp bags.

The two split the bags and went their separate ways. Early on Feb. 10, Horne tried to reach Shaikh on his phone but couldn’t. He and another friend drove to his South Side apartment and found him dead on the couch.

The medical examiner found stamp bags, pills and drug paraphernalia on the coffee table. An autopsy showed Shaikh died from fentanyl and alprazolam — Xanax — poisoning.

Police then used Horne to make controlled buys from Blair. Detectives watched him walk from his house to make a deal with Horne. The police secured a search warrant for the house and found stamp bags and a loaded gun.

The officers also took Blair’s phone. On it, they found conversations in which Blair was trying to buy drugs from another dealer, Quinshawn Haynie. Haynie and his wife, Dara, were previously convicted in federal court of dealing drugs out of their house in Garfield.

In a sentencing memo, Dietz disputed the government’s evidence, saying no drugs were recovered from the scene of Shaikh’s death and no text messages linked Blair to Shaikh.

Craig Haller, the prosecutor, said Blair is subject to life in prison because of his prior felony convictions and his federal conviction for causing Shaikh’s death.

“He claims that his distribution did not cause [Shaikh’s] death,” Haller said. “His distribution did cause [his] death and he was properly convicted for it.”

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.

Torsten Ove

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.