Sarah Horner, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published April 14 2013
In drug death, supplier lives with remorse
It’s not where LaMere pictured he’d be while growing up with his parents and younger sister in Blaine, where he played football and wrestled as a middle-school student.
It still didn’t seem likely even when he started partying as a sophomore at Blaine High School. Drawn to what he calls “rave drugs,” LaMere experimented with Ecstasy, psychedelic mushrooms, acid and other hallucinogens that could take him on a trip.
At 18, he was admitted to treatment for the first time. He went again at 19. He was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia in September 2008 and then drug possession a couple of months later.
His relationships with family frayed. He never graduated from Blaine, getting his GED instead. He spent his days looking for the next party.
“I was stuck in the sludge, you know,” LaMere said in a recent interview. “I’d constantly get sober and then I would fall back in again. ... It was like an ever-losing battle.”
Even then, LaMere said, he didn’t see prison in his future – dying seemed more likely. But it ended up being a best friend, 19-year-old Trevor Robinson, who died.
Now an inmate at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Lino Lakes, LaMere is finally sober. At 23 years old, he is two years into the nearly 10-year prison sentence he received for his role in Robinson’s death.
Looking for another trip, LaMere bought a bottle of the synthetic hallucinogen 2C-E on the Internet and brought it to a small house party in Blaine on March 11, 2011. Robinson and 10 other teens and young adults, including LaMere, took it. Most of them snorted lines of the white powder.
Chaos ensued. People described Robinson as flailing his arms one minute and curling into the fetal position the next. At some point, he started seizing; then he went limp.
Robinson was pronounced dead at Unity Hospital in Coon Rapids the next day.
Everyone who took the drug that night was hospitalized, though no one else died.
“I think it opened people’s eyes to how dangerous these substances are,” said Lt. Paul Sommer, Anoka County sheriff’s spokesman. “A lot of people, especially teens at that time, were of the opinion synthetics might be somehow safer ... when in fact they are just as dangerous as other drugs, if not more so.”
Police found LaMere overdosing in a snowbank outside the house that night. The bottle of 2C-E was in his pocket. Days later, he was charged with third-degree unintentional murder.
Just over two years since Robinson’s death, LaMere agreed to speak publicly from prison for the first time about his experience.
Finally off drugs and immersed in the structured routine of prison life, LaMere has lost 60 pounds, spends 30 hours a week teaching basic literacy to adults and talks of studying college Spanish when he gets out. His head, he says, is clearer than it’s been in years.
“I don’t know how to express how I feel about the fact that in order for me to get better, someone as genuine as (Trevor) had to ... die. That makes me feel like (expletive),” LaMere said.
“When I was doing drugs I always lived under (this belief that) ... it’s just me,” he said. “I wish I would have realized ... someone else around me could die.”
A picture of the brown-haired, 19-year-old Robinson standing in front of a lake with his arms stretched behind him hangs on the bulletin board in LaMere’s cell. He says he looks at it every day and says a prayer for Robinson and his family. In addition to his mother and two brothers, Robinson left behind a young son.
“I am here because of what happened with him, and I need to constantly see that,” LaMere said.
LaMere counted Robinson as one of his best friends, though they knew each other for only about a year. They met through mutual friends at Blaine High School; Robinson was a couple of years behind LaMere in school.
“He was a pretty genuine dude. ... He didn’t have an evil ounce in his body,” LaMere said.
They started hanging out a few days a week. They played Xbox, watched TV, drove around in friends’ cars, hung out by Laddie Lake in Blaine, listened to music.
They also partied, LaMere said. He said he and Robinson had taken drugs together on several occasions before the 19-year-old overdosed and died.
They had even tried synthetic drugs together before, LaMere said, adding he’d done 2C-E a handful of times before that party. Robinson, he said, had tried it, too.
Robinson’s mother, Jill Robinson, said she is only aware of her son trying
2C-B, a cousin of 2C-E, before that night.
The attraction of synthetic drugs was their arguably legal status, LaMere said. They are made to mimic controlled drugs, and manufacturers tweak molecules in the synthetic versions just enough to skirt drug laws. Some are compared to marijuana; others mimic stimulants such as cocaine, or hallucinogens.
“We thought they were legal,” LaMere said. “It was a backdoor.”
So in that sense, there was nothing remarkable about LaMere bringing a bottle of 2C-E to a small house party to share with friends that night, most of whom he’d partied with before, he said.
He knew it was dangerous, he said, but no more than several other drugs. LaMere said he still believes that about synthetic substances. Bad trips on any drug, in his experience, didn’t tend to do anything worse than ruin what might have otherwise been a good night.
“I’ve had bad experiences with hallucinogens before. A lot of people have,” LaMere said. “The last thing you think when someone is having (one) is that person is going to die.”
Though high himself at the time, LaMere said, he remembers much of what happened that night. But he says he doesn’t see any value in making anyone relive it, and he says words fail him when he tries to explain.
“It was quick. It goes from ‘It’s all fine’ to ‘we’re not’ in a matter of ... I don’t know how to explain that to someone who wasn’t there,” he said.
The first two months in the Anoka County Jail following his arrest are a blur, LaMere said.
He learned of the possible length of his sentence before he’d even entered a plea in his case. An article in a local newspaper said if he didn’t plead guilty and accept a 10-year sentence he risked being charged in federal court. Such a conviction could have kept him locked up much longer.
His defense attorney confirmed that, forcing LaMere to grasp for the first time how long he’d be sitting in a cell.
That’s when he says he made a decision.
“I knew I could sit here and be depressed ... but that wasn’t going to change it. I (was) still going to have to do the time,” LaMere said. “I got a good look at my life and decided to use this for the positive and come out of here and not forget about it but benefit from it.”
By the time his actual sentence was handed down May 29, LaMere said, he wasn’t fazed by it.
He recalled hearing the victim impact statement written by Jill Robinson at the hearing. It said what she’d been saying since the beginning, that LaMere – or Timmy, as she calls him – was a troubled kid who loved her son and needed treatment, not prison.
Her compassion has been baffling, LaMere said, adding that she recently sent him a letter in prison. He has sent her two.
“I could understand if she never wanted to speak to me again,” he said.
“I wish I could go back,” he added. “A lot of people say that about a bad experience but I mean even if I had more time to do ... I wish I could go back and give her her son back, you know. I wish that every day.”
Jill Robinson wrote in a recent email that she is sad and angry that LaMere is in prison. His case was “unfairly judged and prosecuted” and used as a warning to others, she wrote.
“To put this young man with criminals and murderers only hardens his soul,” she wrote. “I am sure if he could go back he would. I am also sure he would have traded places with Trevor if he could (as would I). But there is no going back.”
Her anger is directed at the drug manufacturers blinded by “sales and profits” who don’t “care about the dangers and aftereffects” of the synthetic drugs they put on the market, she wrote.
Lyssa DuCharme has a daily vision of Robinson in her 2-year-old son Bentley, who the 21-year-old says looks “identical” to his dad.
DuCharme says much of the anger she felt toward LaMere has subsided, though she says it’s too soon to say whether she’s forgiven him.
“In the end it was Trevor’s decision, so it’s not like (LaMere) forced him to do it ... but I still wonder why that even had to be brought,” DuCharme said. “It’s not his fault, and it is. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Reaction to the case in the community at the time was also mixed, recalled Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo, with some, like Jill Robinson, critical of the county’s decision to charge a young man with murder for giving his friend a drug he willfully took.
“That was one school of thought ... but we have these laws on the book for a reason, and people who engage in importing or distributing drugs should be held accountable, even when you’re just giving them to your buddy,” Palumbo said. “His friend is dead regardless of whether he gave it to him or sold it to him.”
Assistant Anoka County Attorney Paul Young said LaMere’s case seems to have shifted the mind-set of prosecutors and members of the law enforcement community.
Since Robinson’s death, the county has reviewed four other cases of fatal overdoses for possible charges, Young said. A 24-year-old Andover man was charged this month with third-degree unintentional murder after his girlfriend died from overdosing on methadone he’d given her.
“Traditionally over the decades ... we, as the government, didn’t charge the people who (brought) the drugs to the party,” Young said. “(The thought was) this person took it, they knew the risks. ... I think we are trying to be more vigilant now by saying if you’re going to be that person ... you have some liability upon injury or death.”
LaMere said he doesn’t see himself as a murderer.
“I am sorry from the bottom of my heart, to everyone, especially Jill and his family and everyone that loved him and anyone that ever even knew him, that that happened,” he said.
At this point, LaMere said, he’s forgiven himself for his role in Robinson’s death, mainly because he believes Robinson would have and because Robinson’s mother has. He also said it’s the only way forward.
He wants people to know he’s a different person from when he first got to prison. He prays regularly and works out daily. He’s repaired his relationships with his parents, both of whom visit him each week. He recently took a studies session class offered through St. Cloud State University via a federal grant. He plans to take a critical writing one next.
LaMere says he loves the time he spends mentoring English as a second language learners in basic literacy, an experience he says has reawakened his interest in Spanish.
No prison officials would comment on the record about LaMere’s progress. LaMere’s parents did not return a call seeking comment.
When he gets out of prison – which could be as soon as four years – he says he wants to minor in Spanish in college. He is still deciding on a major.
LaMere says he doesn’t know if he’ll use his time warning kids about the dangers of drugs, synthetic or otherwise.
“That’s a tough one because I wasn’t exactly someone who took advice,” LaMere said. “I don’t think there is anything you could have told me three years ago (that would have changed my mind) ... other than the fact that, yeah, a good friend of yours is going to die.”
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