MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Former Auburn University lab technician Stephen Howard pleaded guilty Wednesday to four drug-related counts in federal court.
Howard, 64, was indicted on six total counts, three of which involved possession and the intent to distribute 1,4-butanediol. That has the same psychological effects as GHB, commonly referred to as the date rape drug. The other counts were related to possession of meth and two counts involving firearms.
"The fact of his drug distribution, that has been established," Assistant U.S. Attorney Verne Speirs explained. "He reserved the right to go to trial on the gun charges. In early January he will face those charges for both the shotgun and the pistol."
Howard accepted a blind plea involving the drug counts, listed as counts 1,2,4, and 6 in his indictment.
According to court documents, Howard sold an undercover agent 20 ounces of a liquid substance used to incapacitate women. Shortly thereafter, another purchase was made from Howard for nearly a gallon of the same substance. During the second purchase, Howard showed the undercover agent that he had a handgun. Lab tests confirmed that the liquid was in fact 1,4-butanediol.
"Anytime you have a defendant that produces a firearm during the heart of a trafficking deal, during the heart of selling drugs – that is a message to the person that they are selling the drugs to. It says I know how to use this firearm and you better be careful in dealing with me," Speirs said.
Howard is accused of using his authority to order chemicals through Auburn University's polymer fiber engineering laboratory to gain access to the 1,4-butanediol with the intent to distribute and sell for the purposes of consumption.
The Government contends Howard brandished a firearm during an undercover purchase in order to intimidate the buyer. He also referenced a sawed off shotgun which was later found during a May 22 search of his home. Howard will go to trial regarding the two firearms counts.
Howard's defense filed a motion to restrict the amount of information the government can use from the drug case in the upcoming trial in January. The filing asks the court to exclude any references the substance 1-4, butanediol as an analogue of GHB, or the date rape drug. The motion also seeks to exclude any reference to Howard's sexual activity or using a racial epithet to describe his shotgun, as heard in the recordings.
Speirs feels this information is integral to the case.
"The government ought to be able to present his case with its full scope," Speirs affirmed. "We should be able to present the facts of the case to a federal jury, they ought to be able hear everything in this case. That would be fair and I think they are entitled to know all the facts, good or bad."
During testimony in May, it was revealed that Howard harbored ill-intent toward two women in particular. You can read the affidavit here.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said that Howard was not manufacturing GHB, just the distribution and trafficking.
Those who believe they may have been victims of an incident involving the date rape drug are asked to call the Auburn Police Department investigative line at (334)-501-3410.
If convicted, Howard faces up to 20 years in prison for distribution of a controlled substance, and a possible 32 year sentence on charges for possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. Howard will likely be sentenced after his trial in January 2016.