Lawrence man ordered to stand trial in connection with teen’s fentanyl overdose death

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Benjamin L. Mims is pictured at a Douglas County District Court hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022.

After one Lawrence man described selling a fentanyl pill that killed a teenager, another man — who the first man said had been pressuring him to sell more pills — was ordered Tuesday to stand trial in connection with the death.

Benjamin L. Mims, 36, of Lawrence, was bound over for trial Tuesday in Douglas County District Court on one count each of distribution of a controlled substance causing death, distribution of a controlled substance and conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, all felonies. The distribution causing death charge is in connection with the August 2021 death of 18-year-old Mohamadi “MJ” Tompson Issa Jr., which the Douglas County coroner said was an apparent fentanyl overdose.

Mims wasn’t the only person charged after Issa’s death. So was another Lawrence man, 23-year-old Logan Hastie Morgan. But, as the Journal-World reported, Morgan took a plea deal in February in which he agreed to testify against Mims, pleaded no contest to attempted distribution of a controlled substance causing death, and the state dismissed multiple other felony charges.

On Tuesday, Morgan took the stand and described how he bought pills from Mims and other sellers — some to re-sell to people, including Issa, and others to use for himself.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Logan Hastie Morgan is pictured during a hearing on Feb. 21, 2023. Morgan entered a no contest plea to attempted distribution of a controlled substance leading to death.

Morgan said he met Mims in 2020 through a mutual friend and began buying drugs from him regularly. But in the days leading up to Issa’s death, Morgan testified, Mims had begun to push him to sell more pills.

Because of that, Morgan said he sent messages to his buyers that said his dealer wanted him to “franchise” and to start buying and selling 100 to 200 pills a week, and that they should help him find more buyers. He said he had told Mims that he only knew people in Lawrence and could not travel anywhere else to sell the drugs.

Senior Assistant District Attorney David Greenwald asked Morgan whether he knew the pills he was buying from Mims and re-selling contained fentanyl. Morgan said he did know that the pills were laced, or “pressed,” with fentanyl, and that he informed his own customers of that.

“I was very clear about that and very careful,” Morgan testified.

Text messages shown at Tuesday’s hearing showed that on the night before Issa’s death was reported, Morgan had agreed to sell Issa two “blues,” or fake oxycodone pills. Morgan said he probably met Issa in front of Issa’s house or just down the street.

“I sold him the pill he (overdosed) on, and I didn’t hear from him again,” Morgan said.

Issa’s death was reported on Aug. 28, 2021, when emergency crews were called around 12:15 p.m. to the 3300 block of Westridge Court. But Morgan said he didn’t learn about the death until weeks after that, when he suffered a nonfatal overdose Sept. 5, 2021 and police questioned him.

At the time he found out, he said Tuesday, he was addicted to opiates, couldn’t go more than six hours without a dose and would sometimes go through as many as 15 of the fentanyl-pressed pills a day.

For someone who hadn’t built up a tolerance to opiates, Morgan testified, taking a whole “pressed” pill could be lethal; he said most people broke the pills into smaller doses.

Mims’ attorney, Dakota Loomis, asked Morgan how many people he regularly bought drugs from. Morgan identified five people, including Mims, from whom he regularly bought fentanyl, but he said he couldn’t say for sure how many people he had bought drugs from that year.

“When you’re strung out trying to find stuff, you call whoever you can,” Morgan said.

Loomis argued that with Morgan’s history of drug use and the numerous dealers Morgan interacted with, there was no way to be certain that the pill that killed Issa came from Mims.

Also at Tuesday’s hearing, now-retired Lawrence police detective Charles Cottengim described searching Issa’s phone for messages that could show when Issa obtained the drug that killed him.

Cottengim testified that he found messages between Issa and “Logan” where the two had discussed a drug exchange, and after Morgan’s nonfatal overdose, police searched Morgan’s phone, too. It contained messages to a “Slim Jr.” whom Morgan had been buying drugs from, Cottengim said.

In one exchange, Morgan and “Slim Jr.” set up a meeting in downtown Lawrence, Cottengim said; when he reviewed traffic camera footage from the meeting location at that time, he saw a car that was registered to Mims. He said Mims didn’t appear in the footage or get out of the car.

Loomis argued that the text messages that led up to that meeting didn’t use any specific street terms for drugs, though they did describe exchanging money that Morgan owed to Mims.

Judge Amy Hanley said that in a light most favorable to the state, there was sufficient evidence to believe that Mims was in some way connected to Issa’s death and the distribution of controlled substances. She scheduled Mims to be arraigned on Dec. 15. He is currently being held on a $200,000 bond.

Mims was on federal probation when he was first charged with the crimes in 2022 in connection with a Kansas City-area heroin distribution operation.

Before Mims’ hearing on Tuesday, his charges were amended; the state removed three counts of distribution of a controlled substance causing great bodily harm, which he had previously been charged with in connection with other nonlethal overdoses, as the Journal-World previously reported.

Morgan is scheduled to be sentenced for his conviction on Jan. 5, 2024.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Benjamin L. Mims at a hearing with defense attorney Dakota Loomis on Dec. 27, 2022.


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