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Date-Rape Drug Death Lands 4 In Jail

Four men were sentenced to prison Thursday after being convicted in one of the nation's first trials involving a death linked to a date-rape drug.

The three men who were convicted of manslaughter were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison; a fourth man convicted of being an accessory to manslaughter after the fact was sentenced to up to five years.

The manslaughter conviction carried a maximum 15-year prison term. Judi Clark, the mother of 15-year-old victim Samantha Reid, pressed the judge to sentence the men to the maximum sentence.

“Since her death, people ask me how many children I have and I don't know how to answer,” Clark, wearing a T-shirt with her daughter's name scrawled in the middle of a heart, told Wayne County Circuit Judge Maggie Drake.

“Your Honor, the nation's watching today,” Clark said. “Your sentence is more than a sentence, it's an overdue message.”

All four men were convicted March 14 on charges stemming from the Jan. 17, 1999 death of Samantha, of Rockwood. GHB has been linked to at least 58 deaths since 1990 and more than 5,700 recorded overdoses, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Samantha was taken from all of us by an invisible predator called GHB,” Clark said as she stumped about the apparent national spread of the drug.

Joshua Cole, 19, of Southgate, Daniel Brayman, 18, of Trenton and Nicholas Holtschlag, 18, of Wayne County's Brownstown Township were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of mixing a harmful substance.

Erick Limmer, 26, of Grosse Ile was found guilty of one count each of being an accessory to manslaughter after the fact, mixing a harmful substance, delivery of marijuana and possession of GHB.

Drake sentenced Holtschlag and Brayman to five years and nine months to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter count. She sentenced Cole to seven to 15 years. All three were sentenced to 21/2 to five years on the mixing counts.

Each mixing count was punishable by up to five years.

The judge sentenced Limmer to three to five years on the accessory count; 2 1/2 to five years on the mixing count; two to four years on the marijuana count; and nine months to two years on the GHB possession.

Drake admonished Limmer as “one of the most culpable persons there is in this situation.” She eluded to Limmer's passiveness the night in question and apparent coercion of the other three defendants to first clean up the apartment instead of getting medical help.

The sentences will be served concurrently. Each defendant was credited for time already served, which ranged from 20 days to 80 days.

Prosecutors alleged the men gave Samantha a soft drink secretly spiked with GHB during a Jan. 16, 1999, party at Limmer's Grosse Ile apartment. She died the next day. Her friend Melanie Sindone, now 16, also ingested the drug ad was briefly in a coma, but survived.

At their sentencing hearing today, the men and their supporters asked for forgiveness.

Cole tearfully addressed the court and apologized to the victims' families, as well as his own, “for putting them through this.”

Four of the jurors who convicted Cole of manslaughter also came to court. Two of them asked Drake for leniency.

Holtschlag also apologized to the victims' families, turning toward them but never looking at them directly. He then faced his parents and began crying.

“Mom, dad, I'm sorry about what I put you through and I will make you proud of me again one day,” Holtschlag said as his parents wept.

Holtshlag later sat and trembled with his head bowed, as 14 people including his parents all asked for leniency.

A few drops of colorless, odorless GHB mixed into a drink can render a victim unconscious within 20 minutes. Victims frequently have no memory of what happened, and the drug is difficult to trace, often leaving the body within 24 hours.

In 1990, the FDA banned GHB for public sale amid concerns about its use as a dietary supplement. A 1998 Michigan law made possessing the drug a felony. Michigan and about 20 other states have classified GHB a controlled substance.

Last month, President Clinton signed legislation toughening federal laws against possessing, making or distributing GHB. The bill is named for Samantha and a Texas teen-ager who also died after GHB was slipped into her soft drink.

Some suppliers of ingredients used to make GHB are trying to skirt the federal law by marketing their products not as dietary supplements, but as computer cleaners.

One company's Internet site suggests the liquid offered as a cleaner is a “healthy alternative” and “not poisonous if accidentally ingested.”

Despite the crackdown on GHB, some members of the medical community have come forward to defend what they call its effectiveness in treating sleep disorders, depression and drug and alcohol addictions.

Drake closed the hearing by telling the packed gallery “to try to go on with their lives as best they can.”