The man charged with supplying drugs to a 23-year-old believed to have overdosed on heroin in May apparently kept a pretty low profile around Benzie County, despite being a bulky African American who went by the name “Bruiser.”
Mark Lee Maxwell is built like a bruiser.
He stands 5’ 11” tall and weighs 250 pounds, according to Michigan Department of Corrections records.
One witness in his case said that she only knew of the defendant by reputation. He was someone who went by the name “B,” and the woman was unable to ID him in court.
If he was a supplier of cocaine and heroin from Detroit to Northern Michigan, Maxwell, 35, of Oak Park, also managed to remain low key and not very well known around Benzie County.
The woman said she was best friends with Justin Smith, the Benzonia man who died of a suspected drug overdose and whose body was found on a rural road on May 15. She had talked to Smith that day on the phone. She had last seen him three days earlier, on Mother’s Day.
Smith is believed to be the fourth heroin overdose victim in Benzie County in three years.
The woman testified at the preliminary hearing on June 6 that she knew about Maxwell, but didn’t know him. The woman is not accused of wrongdoing in the case so the Express is not using her name.
The exchange with Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Mason went like this, according to a transcript:
“Do you know a person named ‘B’?” Mason asked.
“Yes,” the woman responded.
“How do you know him?”
“Have you ever met him?”
The defense attorney, Anthony Cicchelli, objected: “How does she know somebody that she’s never met?” Mason rephrased the question and the woman said, “I just know of him through other people.”
IMMUNITY FOR WITNESSES
Other witnesses were more specific about Maxwell’s alleged involvement in drug sales in Benzie County.
It took immunity deals to get them to testify.
Mason said she believes Maxwell is more culpable than the two witnesses, who were both involved in the case and who both face lesser charges.
“It’s not exactly immunity, because they are being charged with crimes. They’re just being charged with less serious crimes,” Mason said. “We really couldn’t go forward without their testimony. We needed it.”
Maxwell faces two charges in connection with delivery of heroin to Smith and delivery of cocaine to one of the witnesses. He is also charged as a four-time habitual offender and faces up to life in prison if convicted. His trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 4.
Maxwell has not been charged with causing Smith’s death. Mason said she currently cannot prove that charge because she has yet to receive the results of an autopsy.
One of the witnesses who was offered a deal was Benzonia resident Brian Patrick Norton, whose house police say Maxwell used as a base to sell drugs.
Norton, who is described in court documents as indigent and disabled, requested a court-appointed attorney to represent him while he testified against Maxwell. Norton agreed to plead guilty to attempted maintenance of a drug house, a one-year misdemeanor.
‘NOT JUST ANYBODY IS WELCOME’
Maxwell arrived in Northern Michigan a day before Smith’s death and knocked on Norton’s door.
Norton, a 48-year-old who describes himself as a “former” drug addict, said he had known Maxwell as “B” or “Bruiser” for about three years.
He said Maxwell had visited his house maybe around 20 times over the years. He came over every few weeks or so.
Norton said Maxwell showed up unexpectedly and needed a place to stay. He said he thought Maxwell came over “just to crash out there I suppose.”
The next day Norton said he bought $100 worth of crack cocaine from Maxwell, an amount about the size of a thumb. Later in that day, others stopped by, including Smith.
AFTER VISIT, SMITH WAS HIGH
Another witness offered another glimpse into Justin Smith’s final day.
Justin Rice said he was headed downstate when he got a call from Smith.
Rice said Smith told him he needed a ride to the store. Plans soon changed, Rice said. Smith asked to borrow his phone. Rice said he later learned Smith called a 313 number, a Detroit area code.
After the phone call, Smith asked to be taken to Norton’s house and Rice was asked to wait outside.
He said he knew Maxwell, but he didn’t know him well.
“I didn’t know him personally, to just call him up and tell him, you know, Hey, I need that,” he testified. Other people knew Maxwell, though, and “they hooked me up.”
Rice said he waited for Smith for about 10 minutes.
‘STRONGER THAN WE’RE USED TO’
Rice said Smith had a package of heroin about the size of a dime and showed the signs of someone who had just shot up. He had droopy eyes, he scratched his head a lot, and he talked “real slow.”
Rice said the two drove to a Betsie River boat launch off of River Road so Smith could shoot up. He said Smith put some heroin in a spoon, dampened it with water, and heated it up with a lighter. He drew some of the mixture into a syringe, and just as he was tying off his arm, a car pulled up.
They drove off, Rice said. As they looked for another spot, Rice said Smith already appeared to be too high and he said he told Smith he should take it easy.
“He was like, I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine. And I’m like, you know, bro, don’t do it, you know, I care about you, you’re a brother to me. And he was like, here, go ahead and try it.”
Rice said he sprayed a little heroin into his mouth from the syringe.
“And I told him, you know, this is stronger than what we are used to,” Rice testified.
There was no testimony about Smith’s final moments.
LOTS OF SYRINGES
The case against Maxwell began when Smith’s body was found lying on a road beside Rice’s pickup truck.
Detective Cody Kastl, a Benzie County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Traverse Narcotics Team, testified that he was called to the out-of-the-way spot on Aylsworth Road near Hanmer Road at around 10:30 p.m. May 15.
There was a report of someone who had taken heroin and was not breathing.
A syringe was found under Smith’s leg, but by the time Kastl arrived, Smith’s body had been taken away.
Kastl said he found two empty syringe packages between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat and a third empty package in the pocket of the passenger door.
Wrapped in a white sheet under a piece of cardboard in the bed of the extended cab pickup truck the detective found syringes, spoons with resin, filters for the spoons, some marijuana, and a shoelace that had been tied in a slipknot as if it had been used to tie off someone’s arm as they shot up.
MAXWELL ARRESTED IN SAGINAW
The following day, at 7:06 a.m., Kastl said he went to Norton’s house to execute a search warrant.
A search of Norton’s home turned up no traces of heroin, Castl testified, but the investigation led to Maxwell.
Later that day, police found the defendant riding on a bus in Saginaw.
Police determined Maxwell had boarded a bus in Rogers City or Alpena and headed south. A downstate drug team helped TNT make the arrest.
Maxwell has since been held in Benzie County’s jail on a $1 million bond.
Castl said no heroin was found on Maxwell when he was arrested.
Cicchelli, Maxwell’s attorney, argued at the prelim that there wasn’t evidence that his client was the source of heroin or cocaine and that Norton and Rice are getting off too easy. He said Norton would say anything to help prosecutors because he got such a good deal.
And of Rice, he said: “I surmise that Mr.
Rice has a great deal of culpability and I would argue that he’s the person that should be on trial here, if not Mr. Norton.”