According to his attorney, Darius Spence was the perfect mark: a heroin addict so desperate for a fix that he would "test" the product for his longtime friend before the drug dealer would buy the goods in New York City.
His unusual role as a human "guinea pig" for a major drug organization led to his appearance in federal court yesterday. Spence, 35, of Baltimore was sentenced to more than 11 1/2 years in prison for heroin possession.
Chief' U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg said that the length of the sentence could be attributed in large part to Spence's designation as a career offender.
According to court papers filed at his guilty plea Sept. 7, Spence traveled to New York to obtain heroin for sale and distribution in Baltimore. Throughout 2004, members of the drug organization in which Spence worked purchased heroin in New York City. Spence then distributed more than 100 grams of it in Baltimore.
Gerald C. Ruter, Spence's attorney, said those documents did not tell the whole story.
Spence "was at the bottom of the totem pole" of the drug organization, Ruter said.
Jabril Yasin, Spence's friend, was the mastermind behind the operation, Ruter said. Court records show that Yasin received a prison sentence of a little more than six years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney George L. Russell III, who prosecuted the case, said Spence's role was substantial. Not only did Spence inject the heroin to "test" its quality, but he also packaged the drugs and sold them in Baltimore, Russell said.
"The relationship was not strictly business," Russell said. "It was closer than that."
At the end of the hearing, standing with his mother amid the back benches of the courtroom, Spence, a longtime heroin addict with a string of prior drug convictions, said he was a man of few words.
"I would just ask the court for mercy," he said.