Two men charged with murder in the heroin overdose death of a Wauwatosa teenager have been scheduled for trial in June.
Daniel Lee Birtic, 23, of Waukesha and Edwin Esteves, 33, of Milwaukee will stand trial June 11 on charges of first-degree reckless homicide by delivery of drugs in the death of Alexandra Michelle Hopping, who was 19.
The trial date was set on Wednesday in a Milwaukee County Circuit Court hearing.
- Wauwatosa Police and Alex Hopping's family offered her story and that of the investigation that led to Birtic and Esteves' charging in a series of stories told in Wauwatosa Patch.
According to police reports and interviews with investigators:
Alex, as she was known to family and friends, was found dead inside the home she and her mother shared in the 1800 block of North 70th Street after she overdosed on heroin bought through Birtic and Esteves. The men were charged under the state’s “Len Bias Law” in October after a six-month investigation by Wauwatosa police.
Both men have pleaded not guilty and remain in Milwaukee County Jail on high cash bail. Both are also charged with possession of heroin with intent to sell, and Esteves faces weapons charges as well.
Text messages provided evidence
On the morning of April 18, Alex's stepfather, Jalem Getz, called 911 when he found her lying on the floor of the home, unresponsive.
Alex, a heroin addict who had been clean for six months, had been expected at her first day on the job at Outpost Natural Foods that morning. When she did not arrive, Outpost managers called her mother, Christa Lewis. Lewis was out of town and in turn asked Getz to check on their daughter.
What Getz and Wauwatosa police found was a classic scene of a drug death. Alex lay face down on the floor between a couch and a coffee table. The table was covered with drug paraphernalia, including the syringe she had used during the night to deliver herself a fatal dose.
Additional doses of heroin were also found.
Police immediately launched an investigation that would take six months to complete, seeking the person or persons who had supplied the drug. Under the "Len Bias law" – so named for the standout University of Maryland basketball player who died of a cocaine overdose in 1986 the day after being drafted into the NBA — anyone who supplies certain illegal drugs to another, resulting in their death, can be charged with homicide.
A scouring of the home for fingerprints or DNA turned up nothing except the fact that Alex had died alone. But text messages on her cell phone supplied evidence that Birtic had picked her up the night before and taken her to a pre-arranged meeting in central Milwaukee where they bought heroin.
"She was a prolific texter," her mother said.
Among the messages they exchanged was one in which Birtic warned Alex that the heroin was of a particularly high grade and there was a danger of her overdosing. Yet he left her alone with the powerful opiate.
Police staked out Waukesha suspect
At the time, police had no idea who Birtic's supplier was. He kept his identity closely guarded from those to whom Birtic passed the drugs along.
Birtic and other known associates in Waukesha were staked out and watched over long, unproductive shifts until Sept. 26, when undercover officers saw a driver pick Birtic up at his home and head toward Milwaukee. They followed and witnessed a drug buy on a central city side street.
Birtic and his driver stopped a few blocks away — police believe they wanted to shoot up in the car — and officers closed in. Birtic had the bagged heroin clutched in his hand when police took him into custody.
The next day, with information from a confidential informant, Tosa police set up a phony drug buy with Esteves, who they then knew to be Birtic's supplier. Esteves, already a convicted felon, was caught with about 3 grams of heroin in his possession. A search of his home turned up more heroin, along with four guns and a marijuana growing operation.
"We believe we have a good case," said Wauwatosa Detective Sgt. Dave Moldenhauer, a lead investigator.
Lewis, Alex's mother, said on behalf of the family, "We're hopeful that both of these guys will serve time for their part in her death."