FARGO (AP) - A North Dakota man who told police he was a hobby chemist who cooked the synthetic drugs that led to the overdose deaths of two teens in 2012 was sentenced Monday to 17 years in prison.
Andrew Spofford is the 12th person sentenced in the case that began with arrests of distributors in the Grand Forks area and ultimately led investigators to track the sale of the chemicals to an online business in Texas. Spofford's prison term is the longest by five years.
Authorities said the drugs manufactured by Spofford, 22, were stolen and eventually wound up in the hands 18-year-old Christian Bjerk, of Grand Forks, and 17-year-old Elijah Stai, of Park Rapids, Minn. Bjerk and Stai died within two weeks of each other in June 2012.
The parents of Bjerk and Spofford gave emotional statements in Monday's two-hour hearing. Debbie Bjerk was first to testify and started by playing a three-minute video that showed her son dressed in his No. 60 Grand Forks Red River football jersey during a ceremony at one of the high school's games.
"I'm showing this video because most of the people in this courtroom have never met my son," she said, turning to supporters seated behind Spofford, who watched the entire clip.
Debbie Bjerk said her 6-foot-4, 240-pound son was considered "one of the toughest kids on the team," but he was no match for the powerful drugs. She recalled how one of the witnesses heard him call out "Mom, Mom" as he suffered on a sidewalk in 57 degrees and soft rain after taking the drugs.
"Synthetic drugs are nothing more than poison," she said.
Her husband, Keith Bjerk, said he knew nothing about the chemicals until his son died. He depicted Spofford as a callous and cold person who only cared about making money.
"This guy's a drug dealer. That's what he did for a living. That's his legacy. That's what he's going to leave for his family," he said.
Spofford's mother, Victoria Spofford, started by expressing her sympathy to the Bjerks and added that she can't imagine their pain. But she said they painted a picture of her son that wasn't true.
"He would never, ever intentionally hurt someone," she said, speaking through loud sobs. "This is all so crazy."
Spofford's father, David Spofford, said his son made bad choices but wasn't alone in this case. He said he didn't mean to be disrespectful to any of the victims but wondered out loud if there wasn't a "little bit of responsibility on the other side of the aisle."
David Spofford ended with quotes from two former presidents and a U.S. Supreme Court justice all questioning federal mandatory minimum sentences for first-time and nonviolent offenders.
Andrew Spofford, who pleaded guilty in October to five counts, faced a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson gave him credit for cooperating with authorities, including information that led to the arrest of Charles Carlton, of Katy, Texas, the man accused of selling Spofford the chemicals.
Carlton is scheduled for a change of plea hearing in a week. He pleaded not guilty last year to a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances resulting in death.
"These particular drugs are as bad as it gets," Erickson said. "Nobody knows what they do. Nobody knows the long-term effects."
Andrew Spofford apologized first to the Bjerk family and then to his own family, who he said don't deserve the misery. He said he thinks about the deaths of Bjerk and Stai every day.
"I wish I could say something to make it better for anyone in here," Spofford said.