Murder Trial Begins in Drug Death
JOSHUA TREE, Calif. (AP) â€” An impromptu rave party in the Southern California high desert five years ago was Lucas Bielat's chance to say goodbye to friends before he moved away.
But the day he was supposed to leave, the 15-year-old was found dead in the desert from an overdose of the popular designer drug GHB.
Now, the man accused of organizing the party and supplying the drug to Bielat goes on trial Monday for second-degree murder in what may be the first such case in the country.
Prosecutors have charged Lindley Troy Geborde, 30, of Los Angeles, with second-degree murder for allegedly manufacturing the drug and supplying it to Bielat without warning him of its danger. He is already serving a 41-month sentence in federal prison for a 1999 conviction on charges he made and transported GHB.
``The law says if you have knowledge that a particular conduct is dangerous to human life, you engage in that conduct and that conduct results in death, then you're guilty of murder,'' said San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney David W. Simon. ``Just because there hasn't been a case until now, doesn't mean it isn't murder.''
Although three men in Michigan were convicted of manslaughter earlier this year in the death of a girl who drank a beverage mixed with GHB, the California case marks the first time someone is being tried for implied malice in connection with such a death.
Known to partygoers as liquid ecstasy, GHB â€” gamma hydroxybutyrate â€” is known for its intoxicating effect, which is similar to liquor without the hangover. It's also known as a date rape drug because of its ability to incapacitate people, leaving them vulnerable to sexual assault.
Once sold in health food stores as a natural food supplement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned over-the-counter sales in 1990. President Clinton signed legislation outlawing the drug this year.
Geborde was an aspiring deejay and actor who appeared in a small role as a federal police officer in the 1997's ``Conspiracy Theory,'' starring Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts.
Defense attorney Frank Peasley says Geborde's actions did not amount to murder and the dangers of GHB have been exaggerated.
''(Geborde) used (GHB) all the time and his friends did, too,'' Peasley told The Desert Sun of Palm Springs. He did not return a telephone call to the Associated Press seeking comment.
Both sides agree that on the night of Jan. 13, 1996, Bielat and at least 40 other people attended a party at Giant Rock, a huge boulder rising out of the sand 25 miles north of Joshua Tree that was made famous in the 1950s by UFO enthusiast George Van Tassel.
But they disagree about what happened at the rock.
Investigators allege Geborde, then 25, handed out plastic jugs of the drug, which he brewed out of engine degreaser, drain cleaner and water, to partygoers.
Investigators suspect Geborde was the leading force in introducing the drug in Joshua Tree, a community of 8,600 people about 100 miles east of Los Angeles.
Although he had allegedly warned people at previous parties before to take only two or three capfuls of the concoction, on this night Geborde said nothing, Simon said.
Witnesses say Bielat chugged the drink and then passed out. Hours later, they say Bielat turned blue and his feet began to curl from the cold.
That's when, according to investigators, Geborde packed up his music equipment and left.
``He made it. He knew it was dangerous. He gave it to Lucas Bielat and didn't warn him as he watched him chug it. ... When he was dying, Mr. Geborde left him there. That's implied malice,'' Simon said.
But other witnesses, according to transcripts from a preliminary hearing in April, say Geborde told people to be careful and that he had someone call 911.
``I remember him saying `Don't drink too much,''' testified Crystal Clare, who also attended the party.
At the time, the autopsy was inconclusive because the crime lab lacked the equipment to test for GHB toxicity. Two years later, the Los Angeles coroner's office used a test it had developed to determine there was toxic level of GHB in Bielat's blood.
On Oct. 1, 1998, Geborde was charged with second-degree murder.
Although nearly everybody agrees Bielat bears some responsibility for taking the drug, prosecutors and Bielat's family hold Geborde responsible for allegedly giving it to him.
``He was the adult,'' said Bielat's mother, Elli Robison. ``I hope they get him off the street forever. ... He should serve a life sentence because I'm serving one without my son.''