FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — It was an emotional day on Friday in Judge Timothy Brooks courtroom in the John Paul Hammerschmidt Federal Courthouse.

History was made as the first person to face charges for dealing fentanyl that resulted in the death of a person in Western Arkansas received his sentence. Ethan Driskill will serve 456 months behind bars for his crime.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents found that on the night of January 31, 2022, Robert Hodous and his girlfriend met Ethan Driskill. They bought powder off of Driskill that they thought was heroin.

When they got back to their apartment, the couple diluted some of the white substance and injected it into their bodies. The next morning, Hodous drove his girlfriend to work and told her he would pick her up after her shift. However, he stopped responding to her texts and calls.

On February 3, the girlfriend discovered Hodous’ body at his apartment. Law enforcement determined he had died on February 1 after injecting himself with more of the substance bought from Driskill.

On February 12, law enforcement searched Driskill’s Farmington home where they found 730 pills falsely labeled as OxyCotin, 240 grams of fentanyl powder and two firearms.

Driskill ended up pleading guilty to his charge in February 2023.

Robert’s mother, Kimberly, said after the sentencing hearing that she feels no stigma or shame about how her son died.

“He fought his addiction,” she said. “I think this was said in the courtroom today that we think drug addicts are dirty and uneducated and lazy. That was not Rob. Rob was an athlete, a coach. He was an entrepreneur. He was an amazing human being. He just happened to be a drug addict.”

Ethan Driskill
(Courtesy of Washington County)

During his sentencing hearing on Friday, Driskill was emotional throughout the proceeding. As Brooks began the hearing explaining how he calculates a sentencing, he said the sentencing must have a deterrent effect, have respect for the seriousness of the crime and promote public safety.

Driskill grabbed a tissue to wipe his eyes as the judge spoke.

The first person to give an impact statement was Hodous’ younger brother, Jordan. He remembered how Robert taught him how to fish, ride a bike and how to be a man. He talked about what kind of role model Robert was to him growing up and that he would be remembered for more than his addiction.

Driskill turned his chair in Jordan’s direction, looked directly at him throughout his speech and whispered “I’m sorry” repeatedly.

Next, Kimberly gave her impact statement. She said her son loved animals, was an athlete who played tennis and taught others of all ages how to play the game. She said he had a generous spirit, was full of kindness and prided himself on helping other.

She remembered the hundreds of people who came to Robert’s funeral service and wrote stories and anecdotes about him in a special book that she brought with her to the courtroom.

Again, Driskill gave Kimberly his full attention while she spoke.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dustin Roberts addressed the court next for why Driskill should receive at least 420 months. He said Driskill was intentionally profiting off of something he knew would cause death.

As part of the investigation, law enforcement had a confidential informant get in contact with Driskill to try and become a new drug dealer. Driskill texted the informant about getting wealthy off of selling fentanyl, how to handle fentanyl for distribution, that you only need one milligram to die from the drug, how to resuscitate someone who is overdosing and how addicts often feel sick if they don’t have enough of the drugs.

The government said this showed Driskill clearly knew what he was doing could cause deaths. And the fact that they found 240 grams of powder in the residence that was intended to be sold into the community shows a clear danger to the public.

Roberts also brought up Driskill’s lengthy criminal history, which goes back to the time he was 18 years old. The charges ranged from traffic violations and failure to appears, to breaking and entering, unlawful possession of a firearm, battery, failed attempts at drug addiction rehabilitation and multiple parole violations that resulted in him going back to prison.

Driskill had been released on November 15, 2021. A month and a half later, he started his elaborate drug trafficking business that resulted in Hodous’ death. The government argues this shows Driskill had a high likelihood to reoffend.

Roberts ended by saying this may be the first case to come before the court in the Western District of Arkansas, but that it won’t be the last, so this case has to set a strong precedent.

Driskill’s attorney Charlie Pearce spoke next, saying this is the worst case regarding addiction he’s ever seen. He also said Driskill was one of the most remorseful people he’s ever met and that he is a different man from when he was arrested.

He shed light on the life Driskill has led so far, which is one of an unstable family as a child, physical abuse, no father figure, drug abuse from the time he was a teenager, parents who also struggled with addiction, homelessness and dropping out of school in the 10th grade.

Throughout this, Driskill was emotional looking back at the family members who sat in the courtroom gallery. He smiled at them as if to say it was all okay.

But he said his client had aspirations to turn his life around. He said Driskill wants to get his GED and would like to study to be an electrician.

Pearce asked that his client receive the low end of sentencing range at 240 months.

Next, Ethan Driskill stood to give his statement to the court. As soon as he got to the lectern, he got so choked up that he couldn’t speak. Brooks instructed him to take deep breaths to collect himself so he could hear what he had to say. His family in the gallery got emotional watching him try to speak.

He began by saying his letter was dedicated to the family of the victim and to everyone who struggles with addiction. He acknowledged that his choice to sell resulted in death and that he hoped lives could be saved by knowing his story.

He said drugs had always been part of his life. He remembered his mom supporting him and his siblings while she struggled with addiction. And as he grew up, he learned to support his own children by selling drugs. He said he had fantasies that drug dealers lived a life of luxury when he couldn’t even afford to pay the water bill at some points. He hoped to get enough money by selling drugs to get his own children out of the DHS system.

He looked at the victim’s family and said that he knew his words wouldn’t bring anyone back nor would they change the situation. He said again how sorry he was through tears, and that he hoped and prayed for forgiveness. He acknowledged the pain of Rob’s siblings saying that he himself is an older brother, that his little brother is everything to him, and how sorry he was to take away someone else’s brother.

At this point, family members from both sides were fully in tears.

He said that we are losing too many bright stars way to soon and that even if he was released today, he would use his life to spread the message of destruction of drugs. He promised the victim’s family and his own family that he would use his time in prison to grow and become a better person so that he could be the father, and eventually grandfather, that his children deserved.

He promised that he would not be the same man coming out as he is going in.

Brooks now began his deliberations of weighing the aggravating and mitigating factors. He began by stating recent statistics about drug overdoses that highlight how big of a problem the epidemic has become.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2021, nearly 107,000 people died of a drug overdose in the United States. In 2020, that number was nearly 92,000 and in 2019, that number was nearly 71,000.

Brooks remarked on how scary it is that that number has gone up so sharply so fast.

He said in Arkansas between 2015 and 2021, overdose deaths have increased by 441%. It’s the leading cause of death in the state and among all racial groups. This alone he said is an extreme aggravating factor in this case.

The quantity of drugs found at Driskill’s home in Farmington, the fact that they found two firearms, the conversations with the confidential informant and the fact that Driskill essentially lied by omission by not telling Hodous and his girlfriend what he was selling them are all major aggravating factors.

“You gave him a loaded gun and effectively spun the barrel not knowing whether the injection he took would kill him or not,” he said in court.

He said it was clear at the time that Driskill had a callous indifference to the lethal nature of the fentanyl he was selling into the community. He also pointed to Driskill’s criminal record and how attempts at rehabilitation had clearly failed, making him a concern for public safety.

On the mitigating side, Brooks did acknowledge Driskill’s remorse and that he believed it to be genuine. He acknowledged the tough life and struggles with addiction Driskill has dealt with from the time he was a child. While Driskill has never had any formal mental health diagnoses, Brooks said he wouldn’t be surprised if he was suffering from something like PTSD.

He acknowledged that while two firearms were found at the home, neither was used in this case and there was no physical violence in Hodous’ death. He noted that Driskill did give an early admission to police and that he did take a guilty plea agreement.

The next thing judge’s typically do when sentencing someone is look towards cases with similar factors. This is the first case brought to the Western District of Arkansas for the charge of distributing fentanyl resulting in the death of a person, so there is no precedent for Brooks to turn to.

Brooks did bring up the case of Dr. Robert Levy, the VA doctor found guilty for working while drunk which resulted in a patient dying. While the situation isn’t quite the same as Driskill’s, Brooks found similarities in the knowledge of the destruction the defendant had and how both disregarded that knowledge so much that it left someone dead as a result.

Brooks handed down the sentence in that case too and he told Driskill he decided to sentence impose the statutory maximum in that case.

In the end, Brooks sentenced Driskill to 456 months, or 38 years, in the Federal Bureau of Prison. He also has to pay a $10,000 fine. His charge had a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Brooks granted Driskill’s wish by sending him to a facility that has vocational training so he can be an electrician apprentice and he encouraged him in getting his GED.

In a press conference after the sentencing took place, U.S. Attorney Clay Fowlkes said he is very pleased with the sentence handed down. He has a clear message for other drug dealers in our community.

It is our hope that this sentence sends a message to those who would seek to distribute this poison on the streets and in the communities of Western Arkansas,” he said. “These law enforcement agencies represented here today will work tirelessly to investigate these cases. They will find you. We will work together to prosecute you, and our office will seek lengthy prison terms to make sure that this dangerous drug is kept out of the communities of Western Arkansas.”

Jarad Harper from the Drug Enforcement Administration Little Rock Field Office also spoke. He said that the DEA is actively working to reduce the power of the drug cartels out of Mexico that are often responsible for the fentanyl in the United States.

“Fentanyl is a highly addictive synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin, 100 times more potent than morphine,” he said. “Just two milligrams of fentanyl is a lethal dose. That’s about what you can fit on the end of a pencil. Please help us get the message out that one pill taken one time can kill. No pill purchased anywhere on the web is safe.”

Finally KNWA/FOX24 talked with Kimberly Hodous about how her family feels after today’s sentencing.

She said it’s not a happy day because the opioid epidemic caused so much pain for her family and even for Ethan Driskill’s. She hopes people learn from this situation not to be afraid to speak up and to know that there are Good Samaritan laws that protect people from getting in trouble when they report an overdose.

She acknowledged that Driskill must have a mother who cares about him like she cares about her own son. She said she appreciated his clear remorse in court.

“His circumstances were tragic,” she said. “He looked at me probably four or five times and said ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ and I put my hand up to my heart. I looked him in the eye across the courtroom and I said ‘Thank you.’ I accept his apology.”

She said she is grateful for all the hard work of the law enforcement officers who investigated the case.

“I am so grateful for the efforts that the multiple law enforcement agencies came together and cooperated together,” she said. “They thanked our family. We really didn’t do that much. They did all the hard work. It’s really — we just reached out and we got them Rob’s phone, and you know, that is the one message if I could give to families is cooperate with them.”

Driskill is only one part of the story. There are two other people who are facing charges related to this case: Marchello Oliver and Amber Adair.

Adair has been sentenced to 96 months in prison for aiding and abetting Ethan Driskill and for possessing 40 grams or more of fentanyl with the intent to distribute. Oliver has his sentencing date set for September 21 for possessing 40 grams or more of fentanyl with the intent to distribute.