Jan. 5—Depending on whom you ask, Nathaniel David Corser was either a Boy Scout or a gang member; serious drug dealer or church youth group volunteer.
Thursday, 23-year-old Corser became a federal prison inmate after he received the longest sentence in Colorado history for a federal fentanyl case that resulted in the death of Kaeden Norlander, 19, of Colorado Springs.
Corser will spend 20 years in federal prison for being convicted of selling Norlander two fentanyl pills at a Colorado Springs park on Independence Day, 2021.
“I want to apologize to the family of the victim, and my family, my friends and everyone I affected with this case,” Corser told the judge. “I wish it was me, not him.”
Norlander, who had dreams of studying engineering at Colorado State University, died after watching a July 4 fireworks show. Some time during that period, investigators say he took two blue pills with the letter “M” on one side and the number “30” on the other.
“His friends tell me he thought it was a Percocet,” his mother, Laurie Norlander told a group of reporters standing outside of Denver’s federal courthouse Thursday.
Laurie Norlander was in the courtroom for Corser’s apology, which she said “was whatever he was supposed to do.”
The case was prosecuted in federal court in order to take advantage of stricter national fentanyl laws and was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Metro, Vice, Narcotics, and Intelligence Division.
Laurie Norlander said that within days of her son’s death, she was able to open his cellphone and retrieve a treasure trove of evidence.
“I knew exactly who he bought from, when, and where. There was a picture of the car. We had everything,” said Norlander.
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Investigators used Norlander’s phone to set up another deal and bought five more blue pills which later tested positive for fentanyl. A search of Corser’s home uncovered more fentanyl, dozens of packages of morphine sulphate pills, and a semi-automatic handgun.
He was indicted in October 2021 and pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death in August.
The defendant, dressed in a yellow jail outfit with a ponytail trailing down his back, showed no emotion as Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter McNeilly made his case before Judge Daniel Domenico for the 20-year maximum sentence.
“He was a gang-affiliated, armed drug dealer … looking to make money off of Kaelen Norlander,” said McNeilly. “We need to let people know fentanyl is deadly even in the smallest doses.”
Corser’s federal public defender, David Kraut, described a boy who never had a chance.
“His parents met in a rehab facility,” he said, explaining that his father was never around and remarked that “240 months is a very, very harsh sentence.”
But the judge responded that 20 years was appropriate for the crime, which is “about as serious a crime as we see here in federal court.”
Corser himself was found unresponsive from a fentanyl overdose just three months before he sold the pills to Norlander, but he was revived according to a letter from his mother obtained by the Denver Gazette.
“During this unprecedented fentanyl crisis, loved ones struggle with acquiring appropriate treatment,” Autumn Burris wrote to the court. “My hope for my son is that he will get the help he needs.”
Norlander was one of 912 Coloradans to die of a fentanyl-involved overdose in 2021 — a year which saw an alarming spike in such deaths. With 60% of the data completed, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports that 604 Coloradans have died after ingesting some form of fentanyl. The CDPHE should have official 2022 numbers this spring.
Laurie Norlander hopes applying a human story to the numbers will be a wake-up call to Colorado parents.
“You think you’re getting one thing, but you’re getting your death sentence,” she said. “I’m so thankful for the silly selfies that we took. What’s hardest for us is knowing there are no more memories of Kaeden after 19 years.”