Accused drug dealer accepts plea deal in overdose death of Plant High student

TAMPA — Less than a week before he was to face a jury trial on first-degree murder charges, the man accused of selling drugs who eventually killed a South Tampa teenager during an overdose received a last-minute plea deal.

Garland Ryan Layton, 38, could have spent the rest of his life in state prison had he been convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the death of popular Plant High School senior Katie Golden. , more than five years ago.

Instead, he told a Hillsborough County judge Thursday that his attorneys reached a plea deal with state prosecutors that allows him to avoid a trial. Layton will now spend the next 10 years in Florida state prison, followed by seven years of probation and a lifetime designation of a “habitual offender,” which carries serious implications should he reoffend in the future.

Layton was neither close to Golden nor her then-boyfriend, fellow Plant High senior Titan Goodson, the night he fatally overdosed on heroin in April 2017, just weeks before graduation.

Instead, he spent the day snorting heroin with Goodson at the Harbor Island condo where he lived with his grandparents. Her grandfather, Sherman Brod, has been a practicing attorney in Tampa for more than 50 years and told investigators the couple had no idea 17-year-old Katie had stayed the night, let alone had anything to eat. large amounts of heroin, until their grandson woke them up. she woke up in a panic early the next morning saying that she was unresponsive.

At first, the state attorney’s office argued that it held the boyfriend responsible for Golden’s death and arrested him for involuntary manslaughter, a charge that could have carried 15 years in prison.

But Goodson was also offered a last-minute plea deal just days before his trial began in March 2020. Prosecutors agreed to drop the involuntary manslaughter charge, but only if Goodson pleaded guilty to lesser tampering charges. of drug evidence and possession, and only if he agreed to testify against the man who sold him the drugs that killed Golden.

The arrangement meant that Goodson would only spend one year in prison.

Layton, a known drug dealer who also went by the name “Yoda,” was arrested just hours after the deal was closed in court, records show.

Had Layton’s case gone to trial next week, Goodson would have been a key witness for the state.

Layton’s arrest affidavit cited a rarely invoked Florida law created during the drug war in the 1980s. The “Death by Distribution” law allows those accused of trafficking certain drugs to be charged. of murder if his customers later die from an overdose of their purchase.

Few state prosecutors in Florida have attempted to use the charge in court, mainly because these cases are difficult for police to investigate, then-Hillsborough State’s Attorney Andrew Warren told the Tampa Bay Times at the time of Layton’s arrest.

Since then, however, Warren has used the law to make nine different arrests.

In early April, Chrystal Gayle Post pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges after she sold drugs to a woman who later died of an overdose. Prosecutors said the drugs were a deadly mix of heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine. As part of her deal, Post is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Golden’s family now spends their days remembering the daughter they lost too young, they said. Golden played the piano and worked at the Splitsville bowling alley on what is now called Water Street. Her death became a local flashpoint in the national opioid crisis. Former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions mentioned her name in a speech during a visit to the US Attorney’s Office in Tampa.

Since then, his parents have created the Katie Golden Foundation in memory of his daughter. Katie had a heart for helping children in foster care, her family said, and she planned to study social work at Eastern Florida State College after graduating from high school. Through private donations to their foundation, the family has since been able to deliver birthday gifts and provide other means of support to more than 1,000 children living in group homes and homeless youth shelters in Florida, New Jersey and Washington.