In a plea deal this week, a Vineyard Haven man received a suspended jail sentence and three years probation on drug possession charges,  more than three years after an Island woman died in her home from a fentanyl-related overdose.

Jason Willoughby, 35, pleaded guilty in Barnstable superior court on Monday to a Feb. 5, 2018 charge in Vineyard Haven of distributing a class B substance (fentanyl). He was sentenced to two and a half years in a house of correction, with credit for 341 days of time served and the remainder of the jail sentence suspended. The defendant was released from custody and placed on probation for three years, with conditions that include no drug or alcohol use.

The change in plea took place in person before the Hon. Mark Gildea, one day before a jury trial was scheduled to begin. Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Jessica Croker prosecuted the case. Edgartown attorney Robert Moriarty represented Mr. Willoughby.

The tangled case began after a Vineyard Haven woman was found dead in her home of an apparent overdose in February 2018. According to police reports filed in court, prosecutors alleged that Mr. Willoughby sold the woman’s boyfriend approximately half a gram of heroin laced with fentanyl that subsequently led to her overdose.

The defendant was initially arraigned in Edgartown district court, but the case was moved up to Dukes County superior court in October 2018 when he was indicted by a grand jury on a charge of manslaughter as well drug law violations

But the manslaughter charge was dropped by the district attorney’s office in early 2020 after a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling strengthened the standard of proof for manslaughter convictions in drug-related overdose cases.

Fentanyl is a class B controlled opiate substance that is known to be approximately 50 times more potent than morphine.

The case received a change of venue and was transferred to Barnstable in 2019 after Mr. Moriarty successfully argued that Mr. Willoughby could not receive a fair trial on the Vineyard.

In the plea deal reached Monday, the district attorney’s office also agreed to drop the drug conspiracy charges. Mr. Willoughby was assessed a $2,340 probation fee, according to court records.