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U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen, center, announces the arrest of five Shenandoah County residents on federal drug charges during a news conference in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg on May 24.

HARRISONBURG — A Woodstock man charged in connection with a Maryland-to-Virginia heroin pipeline that led to the fatal overdose of a Shenandoah County resident pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg.

Johnathan Dale Neice, 42, pleaded guilty to felony distribution and possession with the intent to distribute resulting in the death of J.H. and resulting in serious bodily injury of J.W.

Neice faces up to life in prison, including a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years.

Judge Elizabeth Dillon scheduled Neice’s sentencing for Jan. 8.

Neice was among five Shenandoah County residents indicted in federal court on May 21.

Stacey Allen Marston, 42, of Woodstock; Craig Allen Kidwell, 52, and Norma Lynda Kidwell, 54, both of Mount Jackson; and James Harold Lichliter, 52, of Maurertown, face charges.

The four remaining defendants’ cases are pending.

The Kidwells, who are husband and wife, are charged with felony conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute heroin resulting in the death of J.H. and resulting in serious bodily injury of J.W.

Lichliter and Marston are charged with felony distribution and possession with the intent to distribute resulting in death and serious bodily injury.

Each faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison, but could receive sentences of up to life in prison.

The investigation into the defendants began on Dec. 23, 2017, when police responded to two different locations and found J.H. and J.W., who are husband and wife, suffering from suspected drug overdoses. Federal prosecutors haven’t released the victims’ names, only their initials.

J.W. survived the overdose. She told officers that Neice, a co-worker at George’s Chicken, provided her and her husband with the heroin, according to a criminal complaint filed on Feb. 13.

Neice was then arrested at his home in Woodstock.

The criminal complaint states Neice got his supply from Marston, also a co-worker at George’s Chicken. The deal took place in the poultry plant’s parking lot.

Marston cooperated with authorities and admitted to selling Neice the heroin, the complaint states.

Prosecutors say Marston got drugs from Lichliter, who got them from the Kidwells.

The Kidwells got the fentanyl-laced heroin from a Maryland-based drug-trafficking organization, prosecutors say.

During a press conference on May 24 to announce the charges, U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said his office would target overdose deaths because of weak Virginia laws that make prosecuting the deaths as murder difficult.

“We now know we have to treat overdose deaths as homicides,” said Cullen, during the conference at the federal courthouse in Harrisonburg.

Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter has said he will continue to lean on federal resources to help get drugs out of his county, according to previous Daily News-Record reports.

“It sends a clear message,” he said. “There are consequences.”

Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6267 or pdelea@dnronline.com. Follow Pete on Twitter @pdeleaDNR