Seven Rice County residents accused of dealing heroin are awaiting second hearings after arraignments at Rice County District Court on Monday morning.
Some arraignments occurred in courtroom 2, where Judge Thomas Neuville presided, and some in courtroom 3, where Judge Bernard E. Borene presided. The judges set bail of varying amounts for each of the defendants.
Alexander Bruce Benson, 19, of 300 Aster Dr., Northfield, is facing two charges of aiding and/or abetting in the sale of heroin on Sept. 29 near Greenvale Apartments on Greenvale Avenue, which is a public housing zone, and one charge of aiding and/or abetting the sale of heroin.
The apartment complex was home to Jillian Marie Wetzel, 25, who authorities determined died of an accidental heroin overdose on Aug. 23. Wetzel’s death by overdose was the most recent of five of such fatalities to occur in Northfield in the past year and a half.
Benson allegedly sold 0.8 grams of heroin for $200 to a “confidential reliable informant” working with the members of the Rice County Drug Task Force on Sept. 24 in the parking lots of the Subway restaurant and the Country Inn off State Highway 3, according to a “statement of probable cause” filed in district court.
Neuville set Benson’s next hearing date at Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m. in district court. The maximum sentence for aiding/abetting a heroin sale in a public housing zone is 25 years in prison and/or a $500,000 fine. Aiding/abetting the sale of heroin could bring a sentence of 20 years in prison and/or a$250,000 fine. Neuville set Benson’s bail at $10,000 with a list of conditions or $50,000 without conditions.
Lucas Patrick Benson, 19, of 404 Harrison Ave., Edina, is facing a charge of aiding/abetting in the sale of heroin and a charge of obtaining heroin. Benson allegedly drove another of the defendants in a 2006 Jeep Cherokee to a police-arranged heroin buy on Oct. 19.
Neuville set Benson’s next hearing date for Nov. 4. He set Benson’s bail at $2,500 with conditions and $5,000 without conditions. Obtaining heroin can bring a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
Jacob Andrew DeMann, 21, of 601 Railway St. South, Dundas is facing one charge of aiding and/or abetting in the sale of heroin and a charge of aiding and/or abetting a plan to obtain heroin.
The charges refer to DeMann’s actions on Sept. 29, when police arranged for an informant to buy heroin in Northfield from a person who allegedly rode as a passenger in a 2004 Pontiac DeMann was driving.
DeMann “admitted that the transaction did indeed occur in his vehicle and that he has given Defendant Peterson rides in exchange for heroin,” members of the task force wrote in the statement of probable cause.
Neuville set DeMann’s hearing date on November 4 at 1:30 p.m. The judge set bail at $5,000 with conditions or $10,000 without conditions. The maximum sentencing for aiding and/or abetting in the sale of heroin is 20 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. For aiding/abetting a plan to sell, the sentence could be 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
John Blaze Frank, 21, of 423 3rd St. Northwest, Faribault, is facing two charges of selling heroin on Sept. 29 near Greenvale Apartments, and four counts of selling heroin on Sept. 16.
Police working with the Rice County Drug Task Force used an informant to buy heroin from Frank five times between Sept. 16 and Sept. 29, according to the statement of probable cause. The informant/s allegedly bought 3.5 grams of “high-quality” packaged heroin and .3 grams of cocaine total from Frank using $800 in pre-recorded government buy funds, according to the statement.
Neuville set Frank’s next hearing date on November 4 at 1:30 p.m. The judge set bail at $30,000 with conditions or $50,000 without conditions.
John Shelby Hanks, 21, of 10500 295th St. West, Northfield is facing a charge of aiding/abetting in the sale of heroin on Sept. 25. to a police informant. Hanks allegedly told police he “would drive Defendant Frank to the Cities in exchange for heroin,” according to the statement of purpose. Borene continued Hanks’ case to Nov. 11 at 1:30 p.m. and set his bail at $5,000 with conditions and $50,000 without.
Travis Roy Peterson, 19, a Northfield resident who could not give a specific address to the judge, is facing one first degree charge of selling heroin, two second degree charges of selling and one count of possessing heroin. Peterson, according to the drug task force’s statement of purpose, is allegedly the largest heroin dealer in Northfield. Peterson allegedly sold the task force informant 22.2 grams of heroin for $5,600 between Sept. 11 and Oct. 24., according to the statement.
Neuville set Peterson’s bail at $100,000 with conditions or $200,000 without. He set his next hearing for Nov. 4 at 1:30 p.m.
Patience Carol Stopke-Huisentruit, 18, of 27 Oak St., Farmington, is facing one first-degree charge of selling heroin, one second degree charge of selling and one charge of possessing heroin. Borene set her next hearing date for Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m. and set bail at $5,000 with conditions or $50,000 without conditions.
Benjamin Haynor contributed to this report.
Above: Statement of probable cause for Travis Roy Peterson, Jacob Andrew DeMann, Patience Carol Stopke-Huisentruit, Lucas Patrick Benson.
Update 10/28 11 a.m.: Jim Haas, who posted a comment on this story, told me I incorrectly wrote the judges “posted bail” when the correct terminology is “set bail.” I corrected the term in the article.
Update 10/28 1:30 p.m.: The district court released defendant DeMann on bail on Monday.
Update 10/29 9 a.m.: After doing some online research, it seems the court documents contained a spelling error in Patience Carol Stopke-Huisentruit’s name. I’ve corrected it in the article.
Update 10/31 12 p.m.: The courts also released defendants Stopke-Huisentruit and Lucas Benson on bail early this week.
Update 10/31 7 p.m.: I saw five of seven arraignment hearings in Rice County District Court on Monday morning and the following were my observations of the defendants.
Judge Thomas Neuville saw Travis Roy Peterson first in Courtroom 3 just after 11 a.m.
That courtroom, unlike another I visited later that day, is designed in a way that hides the defendant behind one of the room’s supporting beams. Peterson stood in a wooden, boxed-in area and occasionally peered out around the beam to see the prosecuting attorney and the members of the audience behind him. Otherwise, the defendant’s image was projected onto a few television monitors around the room for easier observation.
Peterson, like every defendant, wore an orange jumpsuit and orange handcuffs. He appeared unshaven, but more or less emotionally composed. Neuville asked Peterson if he wanted him to appoint a public defender, or if Peterson planned to hire a private attorney. Peterson intermittently chewed his bottom lip while the judge spoke.
“Well, how much would that cost?” Peterson asked the judge, regarding the fees of a private attorney.
The judge replied that each lawyer charges something different.
Peterson said he wanted an idea of the cost so he could begin saving money to pay a private attorney, if he needed to.
The judge asked Peterson for his address. Peterson said he didn’t know, but pointed to a person in the courtroom audience and said that person would know. That man said Peterson lived in Dakota County, but did not know the specific address.
During the discussion of setting the terms of Peterson’s release, the prosecuting attorney highlighted the reasons why a jury could one day find Peterson guilty of heroin-related crimes. He told the judge he believed Peterson is a threat to others and to himself.
The attorney read a portion of a police “statement of probable cause” that said Peterson could have been selling about $1,000 a day worth of heroin. At that, Peterson raised his eyebrows in a way that seemed to indicate skepticism.
When the judge set Peterson’s bail at $100,000 with conditions, Peterson had his head lowered into his hands.
Neuville saw Lucas Patrick Benson next. When Benson first spoke to answer the judge’s questions, he leaned in toward a small microphone at the stand. He appeared to have a private attorney, since a representative sat at a desk beside the prisoner’s box and spoke for him on a few occasions. Benson appeared clean-shaven and wore a white T-shirt beneath his orange jumper.
The judge said he would change one of the charges against Benson to include the words “subsequent offense” because Benson had been serving a probationary sentence on another, separate drug charge. The prosecuting attorney said Benson presented a danger to others and himself. Benson did not look at the attorney while he spoke. Benson’s attorney argued the opposite of the prosecutor, emphasizing that Benson could likely begin working a job if released.
Neuville saw John Blaze Frank next. Frank also appeared unshaven. The judge pointed out Frank was serving probation on another charge.
“You look familiar,” the judge told Frank.
Frank seemed to agree, saying he had recently been to court because he had violated the terms of his probation.
The judge asked Frank his preference for an attorney.
“Yeah, if I could get a public defender, that’s be great,” he told the judge.
The judge said it appeared Frank was eligible, since his income was below poverty level.
After the prosecuting attorney requested the judge to set a certain bail amount, the judge asked Frank if he had anything to say about the amount.
“I don’t have any money so I’m not going to make bail anyway,” Frank replied.
The other arraignments happened in Courtroom 2. I made it inside to catch Patience Carol Stopke-Huisentruit’s hearing.
Stopke-Huisentruit, beneath a stylish haircut, appeared composed while she waited her turn before Judge Bernard Borene. The courtroom was designed in a way that made in easy to see everyone in the room. Stopke-Huisentruit sat legs crossed, her white tube socks showing beneath orange shackles and brown plastic flip-flops.
The prosecuting attorney told the judge Stopke-Huisentruit had prior convictions, was a danger to others, and might have even overdosed on heroin in the recent past, according to the police’s statement of probable cause, and so could be a danger to herself.
The judge asked if Stopke-Huisentruit’s parents wanted to speak. Her mother Joni of Farmington and her father Duane of Northfield sat together in the audience. Her father got up to sit beside Stopke-Huisentruit and talk to the judge.
“This is our baby-girl, Patience,” Duane Huisentruit said.
He told the judge Patience has been in treatment for her drug addiction in the past.
“We are still in the process of supporting this girl. We’re still at her side,” he said.
“I agree with what he just said,” Patience said when her father finished speaking.
She told the judge the treatment and probationary sentence helped her to stay clean. She tried “really, really hard to stay clean,” once probation ended, she said, but then began “struggling a little bit.”
“I’m really thankful my parents are here,” she said. “Oh yeah,” she added, “With the overdose thing, I really don’t think I overdosed.”
Update 11/3 9:30 a.m.:
Here is the full-length video, thanks to Ben Haynor! For shorter edited version see http://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/6154/
Update 11/3 9:45 a.m.: At the prompting of a reader, I called Dr. Charles Reznikoff at Northfield Hospital and Clinics who has been treating heroin addicts since administrators hired him to do the job two months ago. Dr. Reznikoff said he has not, to his knowledge, noticed a change in his workload following the arrests of the alleged heroin dealers last week. As per usual, however, he said he continues to see new patients nearly every day. He would not disclose specific numbers about patients, but he said he is certified to have no more than 100 of them.
Update 11/4 5:45 p.m.: A judge scheduled third hearing dates for defendants Peterson and Frank today and denied Peterson’s request for a reduction in bail, according to a clerk at the Rice County District Court. Meanwhile, the courts rescheduled second hearing dates for defendants Lucas Benson and DeMann. Peterson is scheduled to next appear in court on Nov. 12 at 1:30 p.m. as is Benson; Frank, Nov. 19 at 1:30; DeMann, Nov. 25 at 1:30.
Update 11/14 2:15 p.m.: On Monday, a judge scheduled a fourth hearing for Peterson and a third hearing for Lucas Benson for Dec. 10 at 1:30 p.m. A judge also saw defendant Hanks on Monday and scheduled his third hearing for Nov. 26 at 1:30 p.m.
Update 11/19 4:15 p.m.: Judge Bernard E. Borene continued John Blaze Frank’s case to Dec. 16 at 10 a.m.
Update 12/02 3 p.m.: District court judges set omnibus hearings for three more of the defendants. Jacob DeMann is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 14 at 1:30 p.m. and John Shelby Hanks and Patience Stopke-Huisentruit are scheduled to appear Dec. 17 at 1:30.
Update 12/11 3 p.m: Carol Weissenborn, Travis Peterson’s public defender, asked to continue Peterson’s omnibus hearing to another date. Peterson is scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 10 at 1:30 p.m.