The sentencing Thursday of Daniel Birtic and Edwin Esteves for supplying the heroin that killed Alex Hopping of Wauwatosa last year perhaps was the final act of a long and tragic drama.
But there is an epilogue. It is written by heroin itself.
This epilogue is largely contained in documents called pre-sentence investigation reports, referred to as PSIs. They are not required in all criminal cases, but may be ordered, as they frequently are in complex cases.
They contain not just the evidence from the criminal investigations but also post-conviction interviews and statements by the defendants, associates, interested parties, court authorities, family members.
PSI's were ordered for both Birtic and Esteves. They were referred to heavily by Circuit Judge David Borowski in his sentencing deliberations. They tell us much more than was known before about these two men and about how heroin has ruined their lives as well as destroying Alex's.
Read Wawuatosa's Patch's three-part series on the life and death of Alex Hopping from November 2011.
Even though the Wauwatosa police produced reams of reports during a six-month investigation leading to the arrests, their reports gave little more than snapshots of Birtic and Esteves taken on the successive September days when they were taken into custody.
In fact, the police did not even know who Esteves was or where he lived until after he was arrested. He had a lot of heroin and guns and children. He gave no statement, so the police were done with him.
Birtic was a little less of a mystery. He was under surveillance for a long time; police knew something of his comings and goings. But because it was all undercover, they could talk to no one about him. He, too, was really an enigma.
Not a user, but a dealer
Let's start with Esteves.
Edwin Esteves claims a troubled childhood, beginning with a father who was mostly absent or difficult because he was consumed with – can you guess? – heroin.
Esteves' first major run-in with the law was as a juvenile when he was caught in school with a loaded handgun. He told authorities he needed it to protect himself from a south side Milwaukee gang.
Later, Esteves joined such a street gang, and recorded a variety of arrests in his early adult years, culminating in a felony conviction in 2002 for keeping a drug house, where he sold large quantities of marijuana. He served 14 months of prison time for that after he failed to show up in court and was charged with bail jumping.
From then until September 2011, he managed to stay out of the courts. He worked as a laborer in construction and roofing for a time. He fathered five children.
Esteves told the court he enjoyed being a father. He wanted to provide well for his children. He lacked skills to make good money in the trades. So, three years before his arrest, he started dealing heroin.
Esteves said he did not use heroin himself – he had tried it a couple of times but it was not his drug of choice. He preferred marijuana.
So why did he sell heroin? Because, he said, he could "make a lot of money."
"It was a dangerous game that we were all playing," he told the court.
Esteves was careful in his dangerous game. He never gave buyers his name, going by "K." He never talked, always texted, and met his connections away from his house.
When he was arrested in a Wauwatosa police sting, Esteves had about 3 grams of heroin on him, which he handed to the mother of his children, who stuck it in her mouth and tried to swallow it, unsuccessfully.
More heroin was found in his house, bringing the total to about 20 grams – 200 hits worth $4,000.
Also found in the home were four loaded and unsecured guns, including a .357 Magnum. He had a marijuana growing operation in a closet, complete with grow-lights and reflective foil-lined walls.
Four of his five children, ages 5 to 11, were home alone with all the guns and drugs. Only the marijuana plants were under lock and key.
'Compassion' by another name
Daniel Lee Birtic is another story. He was the product of a well-off Waukesha family, as was Alex Hopping.
Birtic told the court he had some "issues," including depression, as a youth that led him to heavy drug use. He had no diagnosis. He said he had brought it up a couple of times to school counselors.
Birtic admitted to abusing alcohol at 13 and then using a pharmacopia of drugs beginning at 14. He used and abused alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, LSD, psychedelic mushrooms, Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Percocet, Xanax, morphine... the list goes on – but it ends with heroin.
Twenty-three at the time of his arrest, Birtic said he had been a heroin addict for 3½ years.
During at least the two years before he was arrested, Birtic had developed a routine. He would collect money from his heroin-using friends and associates in Waukesha and drive, daily, to Milwaukee to meet Esteves. He would buy the drug with their cash, earning an extra $20 bag from Esteves for every $100 he bought.
By doing so, Birtic, as a "mule" or "middler," paid nothing to feed his own addiction.
By his own admission, and the calculations of court authorities, Birtic channeled about $91,000 a year over two years from Waukesha youths to Esteves.
Birtic had no prior criminal record whatsoever. His only run-ins with the law were traffic offenses, which cost him his driver's license. He was so careful of being arrested, he quit driving and talked others into driving him to Milwaukee to buy drugs.
Birtic's friends and family told court officers that he was a kind and caring person who would do anything to help out a friend.
And Birtic himself told authorities, initially, that he thought what he was doing was "compassionate." He was doing his friends a favor, he said. He was keeping them from becoming "dope sick" – the condition of a junkie who can't get a fix.
'I hope they get justice'
After Alex Hopping died at 19, on April 18, 2011, Birtic continued to collect money from his friends in Waukesha, continued to buy and deliver heroin to them, for six months more until he was arrested – all in the name of "compassion."
Upon reflection, after his guity plea to first-degree reckless homicide – Birtic had told Hopping that the heroin was "OD" quality – he admitted that he had endangered other people's lives.
"I am so, so sorry" he told the court and the Hopping family at his sentencing.
Judge David Borowski called him "selfish" and "reckless" and gave him six years in prison.
Esteves had a succint statement of his own.
"I would like to apologize to the Lewis and Hopping families. I hope they get justice. That is all."
Esteves was given 16 years in prison for his part in the tragedy.