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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications, Published June 22 2012

Defense attorney: 18-year-old charged with murder in overdose sure to face federal prosecution

CROOKSTON, Minn. - Adam Budge, the man charged here in Minnesota district court with murdering a 17-year-old boy last week in East Grand Forks by providing a deadly drug, soon will face federal charges in the far-flung investigation involving several overdoses, his attorney said today in arguing for a lower bail for his client.

"It's guaranteed that he will be federally prosecuted," said DeWayne Johnston, the Grand Forks attorney defending Budge, 18, who made his initial appearance today on charges of third-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and two lesser drug-related charges.

Johnston asked that a bond of $15,000 cash or surety be set so Budge could live with his mother in Fargo and await an expected federal indictment that likely could supercede the Minnesota charges.

"It's my understanding there will be a venue change and (the case) clearly will be picked up by federal prosecutors," Johnston told state District Judge Donald Aandal.

"I don't know if he is (going to face federal charges), but he's facing these charges now," Polk County Attorney Greg Widseth replied in asking Aandal to set a bond of $500,000 surety, or $50,000 cash, and prohibit Budge from leaving the state or having any unsupervised contact with juveniles.

Aandal set the bond per the prosecutor's request. That means Budge likely will remain in jail in Crookston awaiting his preliminary hearing here on Aug. 6, with a jury trial set for early September; or until the feds pick him up and move him to Fargo.

The federal prosecutor for North Dakota, U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon, told Forum Communications this week there is a federal investigation involving the two deaths and other drug overdoses, but he said he can't say more about it yet.

Federal felony charges require an indictment by a grand jury, so they typically take longer than state court prosecutions. No federal charges have been filed yet in the investigation.

Johnston said after the hearing he was drawing the logical conclusion from public statements made by law enforcement officials about the deaths indicating it will become a federal case.

The serious charges in Polk County and the fact Budge is accused of committing them while facing earlier charges in North Dakota district court in Grand Forks for driving while high on pot - with an empty bottle of rum in his 1994 white Oldsmobile and accompanied by his 15-year-old girlfriend - indicates a lack of responsibility, Widseth told the judge.

On June 12, Budge "provided a synthetic drug that, essentially, your honor, was poison," Widseth said, reading state law's definition of poison. The fact he faces possibly years in prison if convicted on the state charges and even stiffer possible penalties if a federal grand jury indicts him means he's a flight risk, Widseth said.

"More important, he's a public safety risk," Widseth said, referring to police investigations linking the drugs Budge is alleged to have provided to "multiple juveniles," including the 17-year-old boy he's accused of killing, Elijah Stai, of Park Rapids, Minn., and Christian Bjerk, 18, of Grand Forks, who died last week of suspected overdoses of synthetic psychedelic drugs, called acid by some.

Budge "offered acid to a 12-year-old," Widseth said, while Budge watched him from a few feet away, slightly shaking his head in apparent denial.

"He told multiple lies to law enforcement," and failed to act in a way that might have saved Stai's life if medical attention had been sought earlier and Budge had been more forthcoming about what drugs had been ingested, Widseth said.

But Johnston told Aandal that Budge had cooperated fully with police and would act responsibly, showing up for all court hearings and avoiding bad behavior if allowed to live in Fargo with his mother awaiting federal charges.

While waiting for his initial appearance today, Budge held what appeared to be small Bible, at one point reading in it for a short time.

He several times looked over at his parents, sitting in the front row of the public section of the courtroom, his father, Richard Budge II, often holding Budge's mother close.

According to the court complaint, Stai went into a coma after Budge took him to his father's East Grand Forks home in the early hours of June 13 and never regained consciousness. Stai was declared dead June 15 in Altru Hospital.

Widseth said Budge admitted providing the drugs taken by Stai and by Bjerk and being associated with "the chemist," a Grand Forks man named Andrew Spofford, 22, who investigators have said in court affidavits told them he made a psychedelic drug called alternatively acid, DOC or FM. Spofford is in jail in Grand Forks facing felony charges related to making and distributing drugs.

After the hearing, Budge's parents met with Johnston, then declined to comment, except Richard Budge said, "It's just a tragedy all around."