Cye Frasier stood before a judge in a federal courtroom Wednesday morning, beard grown out with gray patches and hands chained in handcuffs. The alleged Durham drug dealer was facing charges connected to the fentanyl-related overdose of a Raleigh man earlier this year.

Frasier’s charges stem from the March 10 death of Joshua Skip Zinner, 23, a former student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

A second person, 19-year-old Elizabeth Grace Burton, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, also died after overdosing on fentanyl-laced cocaine that Frasier had supplied. Nobody has been charged in her death.

U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen Jr. read Frasier’s guilty plea aloud. On the first count—“conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine hydrochloride, resulting in death”—the judge asked Frasier if he agreed to plead guilty. 

Frasier looked down to his left, away from his attorney.

“Yes, your honor,” he said in a gruff voice that got quieter as Osteen continued reading the plea agreement. Frasier also pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, resulting in death.

Zinner overdosed after using cocaine Frasier had supplied, according to investigators, who found text exchanges between the two to set up the purchase of two grams of cocaine for $168 on March 4.

Joshua Skip Zinner, 23, died in March Credit: Photo illustration by Taylor Le for The Assembly

Frasier has not been charged in the death of Burton, much to her family’s dismay. As The Assembly reported last week, paramedics found Burton unconscious in a Duke University dorm room in the early morning hours of March 9 after using cocaine she purchased from Frasier hours earlier, according to Frasier’s detention order. Burton died two days later. 

Known among students as “The Barber” for his day job cutting hair at the now-closed Lyon’s Den Barbershop and Hair Salon on Morehead Avenue, Frasier faces a sentence of 20 years to life. 

The plea agreement outlines several other charges against Frasier, but states that the government “will not oppose a motion to dismiss the remaining counts” on the condition that Frasier plead guilty to the charges of distributing the cocaine and fentanyl that caused Zinner’s death. 

Those charges include cocaine and fentanyl distribution and use of a cellphone to facilitate drug trafficking. The plea agreement also states that the government will dismiss a charge of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl while in possession of a firearm in exchange for Frasier waiving his right to challenge or appeal the conviction and eventual sentence on the other charges.

Frasier’s sentencing is scheduled for January 31, 2024. The court will recommend a 25 year maximum sentence, Osteen said, but that can be overridden if the judge thinks the evidence presented necessitates a longer sentence. 

In the plea bargain, Frasier also agreed to pay restitution to all victims his drug-dealing harmed, including Burton’s family. 

But for Burton’s family, money is not enough. “[Frasier’s] plea does not take responsibility for Gracie’s death,” her uncle, James Burton, said in a text message Tuesday. “Restitution can never replace the loss of her life.”

Patrick Rowland, the 22-year-old Duke student who allegedly used cocaine with Burton the night she overdosed, pleaded guilty in June to the unlawful use of a cell phone to distribute cocaine and marijuana over a period of about seven months. He will be sentenced December 12 and has not been charged in Burton’s death. 

Carlisa Allen, Frasier’s girlfriend, faces all the same charges that were brought against Frasier. Allen’s lawyers have disputed those charges, arguing that she was not present for the drug purchases. Her trial begins November 13. 

Chris Adkins, the attorney representing the Burton family, filed a motion yesterday to establish the family as victims under the Crime Victim Rights Act in the case against Frasier and Allen. If the motions are approved, prosecutors would be required to notify the family of hearings and permit them to make impact statements that could be considered in sentencing.

Adkins filed a similar victims’ rights motion in Rowland’s case. At a hearing last week, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles said she will rule on that motion in November.

Rowland’s attorneys objected, arguing that the charges against Rowland are unrelated to Burton’s death.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DeFranco has also said the Burton family should not qualify under the Crime Victims Rights Act and that an upcoming report will include information about Rowland’s alleged conduct on the night of Burton’s overdose that could help the judge decide.

Video footage shows Frasier and Rowland carrying Burton’s body into the Duke dorm room on the night she overdosed, an hour before 911 was called. James Burton said that should be evidence enough to charge both with his niece’s death. 

 “It’s hard to be told that your government knows a crime against your loved one resulted in her death,” he wrote in a text message Tuesday. “It’s painful and unjust.”

Zinner’s family said Frasier’s guilty plea was a relief.

“It’s important this person not be out there selling this poison to other kids,” his father, Cliff Zinner, said Tuesday. But he wishes Frasier had been arrested before his son purchased cocaine, and knows a new dealer will take his place.

“It’s a great thing for everyone in North Carolina, but it’s not a huge thing of closure for me when it comes to Josh,” said his 16-year-old sister, Molly Zinner. 

Charlotte Kramon, a Duke University senior from Los Angeles, worked for the Los Angeles Times last summer and reports for The Ninth Street Journal. Her email is

Comment on this story at

Support independent local journalism

Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.