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Man linked to drug fatality gets 35 years

The sentencing is the last in a lurid case involving the date-rape drug GBL, sex and a fatal overdose.

By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 24, 2002


TAMPA -- The case began 18 months ago with a body clumsily moved to conceal where the man had died.

Along the way, investigators unearthed a sordid tale of drug use and videotaped sexual encounters, often with semicomatose women high on a popular drug called GBL.

The case wrapped up Monday with an emotional three-hour sentencing hearing at which the last defendant, Russell John Nestor, received 35 years in prison.

"It's good that this part is over," said Lyle Jenkins, the father of the dead man, Paul Kniep. "But it doesn't make it all right. I don't feel much better."

On March 17, 2001, Kniep was at 402 W Violet St. in Tampa, partying with some friends, including Nestor, Detta Spence and William Patrick Spence. Kniep drank some alcohol and then took GBL, a drug usually found in liquid form. The effects are similar to alcohol but much more extreme in much smaller quantities.

Kniep soon collapsed on the floor.

Nestor dialed 911 at 4:59 a.m. but didn't say anything to the operator. He called back a minute later and said he had dialed accidentally the first time and that there was no emergency. Kniep eventually died.

Nestor and the Spences carried Kniep's body to his car, which was parked outside the home, and placed him in the front seat, court records stated. William Spence eventually called the police and told them that Kniep appeared dead in his car.

Investigators quickly determined that someone had moved the body. They eventually discovered that William and Detta Spence had allowed Nestor to store and distribute GBL at the house.

GBL, which is an industrial chemical found in floor stripping compounds, is converted by the body to gamma hydroxybutyric acid, also known as GHB. The drug is often used by body builders to enhance growth hormones and by partygoers and thrill-seekers who want a potent high without the hangover that comes from drinking alcohol.

The drug is also known as a date-rape drug because in a large enough quantity it renders its victims virtually unconscious. The highly addictive drug causes severe side effects, including a slowed heart rate and sometimes death.

The investigators uncovered videotapes Nestor had made of his fondling women under the influence of the drug. The tapes showed many people unconscious on the floor from taking too much GBL at various parties at the home. One tape showed Nestor stuffing a woman's panties into her mouth.

The Spences eventually pleaded guilty to operating a drug house. At a trial in April, a jury found Nestor guilty of three drug charges, including possession with intent to distribute 9.8 gallons of GBL.

Last month, a judge sentenced Detta Spence to almost three years in prison for operating a drug house. At that hearing, Kniep's grandfather collapsed in the courthouse hallway and died of a heart attack. Last week, William Spence received 51 months in prison, also on a charge of operating a drug house.

At Monday's hearing, Nestor stood and listened as Jenkins and a friend of Kniep's called him a predator and possibly worse than "subhuman."

A young looking 37, with short cropped hair and a round face, Nestor looked nervous. The guards had to tell him several times not to put his hands in the pockets of his baggy jail pants.

Jenkins told the judge that his son was only 23 when Nestor gave him the GBL and said he could have lived another 50 years.

"It's our hope that Mr. Nestor will spend that time in prison," he said.

Nestor's friends and family made several impassioned pleas for leniency to U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday. They painted Nestor as a kind soul taken over by drug addiction.

He was never violent, his father said. He was the first one to help out when anything went wrong, his mother said. He suffered from attention deficit hyperactive disorder, a doctor said.

The statements left some of Kniep's supporters sitting across the aisle squirming in their seats. "How dare they," one said under her breath.

Near the end of the hearing, Nestor turned to the spectators and apologized to both families for the agony he had caused. Nestor, however, stuck to his claim that he did not give Kniep the GBL that killed him.

Federal prosecutor Colleen Murphy Davis blasted Nestor as a dope peddler with many prior arrests who "let a person die." In her years of prosecuting, she had not seen a drug dealer as callous as Nestor, she said.

Nestor was not charged with murder. However, the judge in rendering a sentence could consider the fact that Kniep died after taking the drugs and Nestor helped obstruct investigators from finding out what happened.

"This defendant is not a victim, your honor, he's a victimizer," Davis said.

Merryday then sentenced Nestor to 35 years in prison. Under current law, he will have to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence.

-- Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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