Inmates trading a powdery substance for three packages of noodles and coffee led to Harris County’s 18th in-custody death of the year, records allege.

Local news reported 28-year-old Christian Rayo’s death last Thursday after the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said he suffered a medical emergency. Rayo was the third inmate death in four days.

On Tuesday, reporters obtained records that allege Rayo died after snorting what investigators believe was fentanyl passed between inmates behind jail walls. Prosecutors charged 41-year-old Michael Roger Barnett with fentanyl murder by delivery, the first such case that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted.

According to court records, another inmate, Kahled Azzeh, allegedly acquired a white powdery substance from Barnett in exchange for the food items. Azzeh then shared the substance with Rayo before both were unconscious.

Azzeh and Rayo were rushed to the hospital. Records show that Azzeh survived, later telling the Texas Rangers what took place.

In addition, investigators said cameras picked up the exchange and the inmates ingesting the drug. Records also alleged that Barnett admitted to knowing the substance was fentanyl.

Court paperwork noted that Barnett was convicted of felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in 2019. Rayo was locked up since the start of 2023, accused of causing a crash during a chase that left a 12-year-old girl dead.

“Whatever Christian was charged with, and yes, it was serious, but everything is not black and white in this business. If you do it long enough, there are many shades of gray. Christian absolutely deserved his day in court. He deserved to have his story heard. I was shocked by his death,” his defense attorney, Brian Roberts, told reporters. “I am very happy someone has been charged with his death.”

Barnett is due to appear in district court on Nov. 28.

The details emerged as another jail drug smuggling case leading to deaths is being prosecuted. Over the weekend, 77-year-old Ronald Lewis was charged with two counts of having a prohibited substance in a correctional facility.

Deputies accuse Lewis, a defense attorney, of visiting inmates who weren’t his clients and passing off paper soaked in drugs for money.

Investigators allege Lewis’ actions may have led to at least two inmate deaths from June. HCSO also believes Lewis might not be the only attorney smuggling drugs in the jail.

“It’s just a moral catastrophe that a lawyer, an officer of the court, could do this,” Jed Silverman, the former president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said. “At the end of the day, this is just going to make things more difficult for us.”

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