As President Donald Trump declared opioids a national emergency in America, a York County judge appeared in court because of an overdose death.
The judge was not in court to rule on the case. He was there because his daughter was dead for $20 worth of heroin.
Ashley Barnette, 32, was found dead April 8, 2016, at her home in Rock Hill, 16th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Blaine Pleming said Thursday. The coroner ruled she died from a heroin overdose.
The deceased woman’s father, Clayburn Barnette, is a longtime York County magistrate judge. Barnette and his wife, Debbie, were in court and talked to Circuit Judge Brian Gibbons about what opioids did to their daughter and family.
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They asked for justice against the man who sold their daughter the fatal dose. But Barnette did not identify himself as a judge, and was not identified as such by others, said Pleming.
Barnette’s title Thursday was “father.”
Sean Mullis, a Charlotte man who admitted he sold the heroin to Ashley Barnette, was in court for the guilty plea and sentencing.
Mullis, 35, “provided the drugs that led to Ashley Barnette’s death,” Pleming said.
Pleming told Gibbons that Barnette’s death from the drugs should be considered in sentencing.
A strong sentence would send a “deterrent message” and “epitomizes the importance of vigorously prosecuting hard drugs,” Pleming said.
Mullis showed remorse for the drug dealing and did confess and plead guilty, court testimony showed. Gibbons sentenced Mullis to 30 months in prison, in the middle of the five-year maximum sentence struck in a plea deal.
Pleming told Gibbons “heroin is the worst drug we face, and the epidemic of overdoses in this country is on the rise.”
Pleming told Gibbons that York County drug agents were called, four days after Ashley Barnette died, with information about the source of the drugs. Drug agents found text messages between Ashley Barnette and Sean Mullis, which showed a drug transaction set for the morning of April 8, Pleming said.
Marvin Brown, commander of the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit, and Lt. Mike Ligon, second-in-command, met with Mullis days later. Mullis confessed and was later arrested.
In court, Barnette declined to comment. But Debbie Barnette said after the hearing that her daughter died for $20.
Mullis “drove all the way from Ballantyne to Ashley’s house for $20 worth of heroin,” Debbie Barnette said. “Opioids are an epidemic, it is rampant. . . It is terrible for people and their families.”
Mullis was charged with heroin distribution, and pleaded guilty to possession of heroin with intent to distribute, court records show.
The Barnette’s “had no clue” about their daughter’s addiction, after she was prescribed narcotic painkillers, Debbie Barnette said.
“Addiction is a disease,” Debbie Barnette said. “She didn’t choose to be an addict. It was stronger than she was.”