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Jury hears closing arguments in trial of Hopkins man accused of killing 11 people in online drug conspiracy

30 March 2022

A jury heard closing arguments Wednesday in the federal trial of a Hopkins man accused of selling a chemical mixture containing fentanyl online as “4-FA,” an Adderall knock off, causing 11 people to die and five more to suffer substantial harm after overdosing.

Prosecutors said Aaron Broussard, 31, bought illegal chemicals from a company in China and resold them disguised as plant food across the United States via U.S. mail. In spring 2016, Broussard knew his shipment was harming his customers, but he continued to sell the drugs with no warning or regard for the consequences, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Hollenhorst told the jury in St Paul’s federal courthouse.

“The evidence is overwhelming,” said Hollenhorst. The prosecutor showed the jury photographs of the victims, which included Jason Beddow, a 41-year-old agricultural economist found dead in his office at the University of Minnesota on April 14, 2016.

Broussard’s attorney, Aaron Morrison, said the case is full of “horrible tragedies,” some of which will stick with him “for the rest of my life.” But he argued the prosecutors failed to prove beyond on a reasonable doubt that Broussard’s drugs killed the victims, asking jurors several times to set aside emotions and examine the evidence objectively.

Broussard is charged with 17 counts related to selling the chemical compound from his website, Plant Food USA, from March to December 2016. The charges include conspiracy and multiple counts of distribution of fentanyl resulting in bodily injury or death.

In court Wednesday, Morrison said his client believed he’d found a legal loophole to buy chemicals online from a lab in China called Topkey Pharmaceutical Chemical and sell them as plant food.

In March 2016, he bought 100 grams of 4-FA from Topkey. Morrison said Broussard did not know the shipment contained fentanyl, which is lethal in a much smaller dose than an amphetamine.

Morrison denied that Broussard operated in a conspiracy, comparing Topkey’s role as that of the U.S. Postal Service, which shipped the packages of the drugs in black Mylar bags emblazoned with the company’s logo.

“There was no meeting of the minds,” he said. “This is a one-man show.”

The defense attorney cast doubt on whether the victims died solely from Broussard’s drugs. He said the victims have “secrets they kept from their loved ones,” and some were discovered with other chemicals in their possession that may have contributed to their deaths.

“Can you be certain the person didn’t get other fentanyl? Can you be certain?” Morrison asked the jury.

He said Broussard “made it clear what his products were for and not for,” noting they were labeled as not intended for human consumption.

In a rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Williams called Morrison’s closing remarks “rank speculation” disengaged from the evidence and “common sense.”

Williamson said a cache of text messages and emails show Broussard knew he was dealing drugs — not plant food — and that the customers not reading “the fine print” is not a logical defense.

“News flash: Ficuses don’t take Adderall,” she quipped.

Williams called it “absurd” to suggest Broussard’s fentanyl may not have killed the victims. She and Hollenhorst said, along with medical reports and testimony over the past week and a half, the short windows between the victims receiving the packages and overdosing— sometimes in the same day — is a “smoking gun.”

“You know exactly what happened here,” she told the jury in asking to render a guilty verdict.

Hollenhorst showed the jury emails to and from Broussard, some complaining to Topkey, the Chinese chemical company, about a previous bad batch. “I’m lucky I didn’t get into too much trouble,” Broussard wrote in Aug. 2015, seven months before he sent out the batch that allegedly caused the overdoses.

“He doesn’t shut down; he doubles down,” Hollenhorst told the jury, alleging Broussard ignored repeated suggestions from Topkey to test the chemicals.

Multiple customers contacted Broussard with concerns about the 2016 batch, including one who asked if the shipment contained opiates, noting unusual symptoms counter to the stimulant she thought she’d purchased. Another customer reported spending three days in the ICU.

“He knew that these drugs were dangerous and he didn’t test them,” said Hollenhorst .

The jury will begin deliberating the case Wednesday afternoon.

This post was originally published on this site

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