Suspect arrested in student death case

A story of heroin trafficking that has seen the death of two Tuscaloosa men, including a University of Alabama student and a law enforcement sweep of North Alabama, is reaching its final chapter with the April arrest of Patropius Foster. Foster was charged with selling heroin that resulted in the death of Baker Mims, a UA student, in March 2013.

Authorities set out to arrest 50 people in September 2013, but the two men responsible for selling heroin to two Tuscaloosa area residents, including Mims, remained at large.

Harold Donnell Mims was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison on May 27 for selling heroin to a Northport man who was later found dead at The Woodlands.

Peggy Sanford, public information officer for the US Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama, said the arrests followed 50 indictments, or charging documents granted by a grand jury. To get an indictment, she said, the US Attorney’s Office had to receive a referral from an investigating agency, such as the FBI, ATF or DEA.

“The US Attorney’s Office doesn’t have investigators. It has agencies,” she said. “There has to be evidence of a criminal act for someone to be indicted.”

The indictment lists 16 counts against Erskine Bannister Foster, Patropius Foster and Marcus Ladarion Bettis. The 11th count states that the grand jury charges that on March 19, 2013, Patropius Foster “knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully [distributed] a quantity of mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, a controlled substance, and death resulted from the use of said heroin, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C).”

Since a grand jury determined that Foster could be charged, a trial jury will eventually see him. Though others arrested in the same sweep have already been sentenced, Foster remained a fugitive until April 15, when he was arrested in Atlanta. On April 30, Sanford said, he had a simultaneous arraignment and detention hearing, during which he was detained.

“He’s going to remain in custody until his trial,” she said.

Sanford said a trial date had not yet been set, and Foster and his defense waived his right to a speedy trial by having the case declared complex.

P. Russell Steen, Foster’s attorney, submitted a motion citing the 16 count indictment, including one count for Mims’ death, making the preparation of a defense more difficult and increasing the potential mandatory minimum sentence. Sanford said the death results in a 20 year mandatory minimum sentence.

“Counsel is in need of additional time to investigate and seek assistance from a forensic pathologist in the preparation of the defense,” the motion reads.

The motion notes that the issue has been discussed with government counsel, who did not object, and requests a 60 day extension for the scheduling order.

According to Justice 101’s “Steps in the Criminal Justice Process,” a resource provided by the US Attorney’s Office, discovery, plea bargaining, preliminary hearing and pre-trial motions will need to occur before a trial. After post-trial motions, Foster will undergo sentencing.

Sanford said of the 49 arrests made prior to Foster, 39 suspects pled guilty and 1 was convicted at trial.

“Foster was a fugitive from September until April. Obviously, his case is tailing all of the others,” she said. “He’s the only one that was remaining that has yet to be decided ultimately.”

(See also "Lethal Injection: Student heroin use increases")

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