Family Senses Justice in Sentencing of Daughter's Heroin Suppliers

Two men get stiff sentences from judge for their part in providing teen with drug that caused her fatal overdose, and family feels that appropriate justice has been done.

It is rare in any homicide case that the victim's family walks away feeling that full justice has been done — simply because no sentence a court can impose will ever make up for the loss of their loved one's life.

But on Thursday morning, all members of the family of Alex Hopping, , said they were satisfied with the punishment handed down to the two men who supplied Hopping with the drugs that killed the 19-year-old.

"It was the best we could hope for, under the circumstances," said her stepfather, Jalem Getz.

Prosecution and convictions are often hard to come by in such cases, under what is known as the Len Bias law. In this case, the police and courts got two guilty pleas.

Daniel Lee Birtic of Waukesha, 24, in May pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree reckless homicide and on Thursday was sentenced by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Borowski to six years in prison and seven years of extended supervision.

Edwin Esteves of Milwaukee,  34, pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree reckless homicide and one count of being a felon in possession of a gun. Borowski sentenced him to 14 years in prison and eight years supervision on the homicide conviction and two years of prison and two of supervision on the weapon count.

Read Wawuatosa's Patch's three-part series on the life and death of Alex Hopping from November 2011.

Those sentences are to run consecutively, for a total of 16 years incarceration and 10 years of extended supervision, meaning Esteves will not be free of prison or the threat of prison until he is nearly 60.

Both Birtic and Esteves, Borowski ordered, must serve every day of their prison sentences, with no eligibility for early release or parole.

Middleman supplied friends to feed his own addiction

Even though the maximum sentence for a first-degree homicide charge is up to 40 years in prison, Borowski's impositions were stiff in both cases.

Birtic's defense lawyer asked for four years in prison for his client, while the prosecutor recommended five to six years. Borowski went with the maximum recommendation from the district attorney plus an even lengthier supervision.

Birtic was a longtime acquaintance of , and he supplied heroin to her and other friends and associates there. Before his arrest in her death, he had no prior criminal record.

He was a "middler," who would collect money from suburban users and make daily trips to central Milwaukee to buy the dope from Esteves, taking a cut of the heroin as his payment to supply his own addiction.

The defense tried to paint Birtic as an unfortunate heroin user whose addiction blinded him to the consequences of his acts, and that four years would be enough time for him to "clean up" and rehabilitate himself.

Borowski would have none of that, saying that Birtic showed no remorse or awakening of conscience after Hopping died from shooting up the heroin he supplied her. Instead,

"That is highly aggravating in this case," Borowski said.

Only when he was in custody and facing homicide charges did Birtic change his ways, mitigating his case somewhat by cooperating with police, confessing, and agreeing to testify against Esteves if need be, Borowski noted.

Also, by pleading guilty, Birtic spared Hopping's family the stress of a trial, Borowski said.

But in the end, Birtic had been selfish and reckless with many lives, resulting in tragedy for Hopping and her family, Borowski said before imposing sentence.

Of Birtic's sentence, Christa Lewis, Hopping's mother, said: "I'm satisfied. I think the supervision, the back end of it, is going to be the hardest for him, so I see it as a long sentence. He has to stay clean or he's looking at a lifetime of this."

The pusher, well-equipped with weapons

In Esteves case, there were very few mitigating circumstances and many more damning ones.

While it was Birtic who handed Hopping the bags of heroin that would kill her, and then left her alone with the powerful drug, Esteves was a high-volume heroin pusher providing many such small-time dealers with drugs.

On top of that, Esteves had a substantial prior criminal record, including gun charges and a 2002 felony conviction for keeping a drug house, although that was a marijuana dealing operation.

After having no contacts with the criminal justice system since 2003, Esteves turned to dealing heroin about three years ago and made it his livelihood.

When arrested in the Hopping case, Esteves had on his person and at his home about 20 grams of heroin — some 200 "hits" worth $4,000, the prosecution noted — plus four illegal guns, one of them a powerful .357 magnum.

Police also found a marijuana growing operation in his apartment — and four children, from 5 to 11 years old, left alone with all the guns and contraband.

Judge Borowski did not deliberate nearly as long over Esteves, calling him "a great danger to the community deserving of a long prison sentence," before imposing four more years than the prosecution and defense had agreed to.

Mark Hopping, Alex's father, said that he hoped the sentences would resound in the community not only as a warning against criminal behavior but to kids about using drugs.

"At the end of the day," Hopping said, "if the penalty is high enough, it can be a deterrent."

To come: Case reveals the twisted psychology of the drug culture, and the profound effects on those involved as family and friends.

kathryn hopping August 18, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Anonymous, I understand and am sad for your and his loss. I hope he finds help and can turn his life around. I think he may have a lot to offer to people who are as lost as he is...
kathryn hopping August 18, 2012 at 06:04 PM
vlad, of course. "there but for the grace of god, go i." Birtic could have died instead of Alex. But that is not what happened. None of us,including Alex, denies responsibility for what happened. Alex took the ultimate responsibility, didn't she? Now, it's up to Mr. Birtic and Mr. Esteves to take responsibility for their own actions. And once they do, perhaps they can be of help to others.
Matt young October 19, 2012 at 09:36 AM
Yes junkis end up doing things they or there parents never couldve guessed theyed do,im sorry for all the deaths and de&ths to come ,cuz its not getting better,ive lost to many myself,but know exactly what it takes to be a junki,life sucks being a heroin addict,theres no good in it,but something needs to happen early cuz people want to turn a blind eye,but its here and things need to change cuz locking people up only fixes people who get caught,but they cant catch every heroin,user,dealer,or stop it from growing and entering our schools ,cities,etc. Its an epidemic change the ways or something
Matt young October 19, 2012 at 09:47 AM
And every heroin user is a small to big time dealer,so if your kids using he or shes selling also its part of the nasty life style,so parents keep your eyes open its not hard to tell,just talk to someone then pay close attention to your kids and their friends
Matt young October 19, 2012 at 08:18 PM
And all your kid needs is a car and friends who use,parents have to be proactive because before u realize your kid is using ,they could be 2 years deep and the longer they use the harder it is to help,leave me a message I know alot and think I could help parents who arent sure,im a long time recovering heroin addict with teenagers of my own,so parents open your eyes,watch your children and dont let it be to late


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