The harsh reality of drugs has hit home for a Saucier native who killed a friend in 2014 while hallucinating from drugs they’d injected.
Stephen Hagin didn’t have money to pay Brian Bachtel for the “dope” he’d asked Bachtel to bring him, attorneys said. Hagin, in a guilty plea to second-degree murder on Tuesday, said he thought Bachtel was attacking him because he had no money to give him.
Hagin shot Bachtel in the left ear while they met on a property on Bell Creek Road, a rural Pass Christian neighborhood, and hid the body.
Hagin, who has triangle-shaped tattoos above and below his left eye and other tattoos, is believed to be a member of the Latin Kings street gang, attorneys said. The killing was not considered gang-related.
Prosecutors believe the “dope” was meth because of statements from people who know Hagin, Chief Assistant District Attorney Crosby Parker said.
The witnesses were not with Hagin when he obtained the “dope” and killed the 38-year-old Bachtel, by attorneys’ accounts.
Bath salts, not meth
Hagin, 29, claims the drug Bachtel bought was bath salts and the two men injected it with needles, according to his attorney, Michael Crosby.
Bath salts are an illegal designer drug that can cause violent, psychotic behavior, some of the same side effects of meth, the National Institute On Drug Abuse says.
Bath salts are considered a cheap substitute for stimulants such as meth or cocaine.
The designer drug, sold in small packages, is often labeled as plant food, jewelry or phone screen cleaner, and typically has a disclaimer: “not intended for human consumption.”
Hagin has admitted he shot Bachtel in June 2014 because he was afraid of what Bachtel might do to him, and he tried to cover it up. He claimed he didn’t mean to kill him.
He had borrowed a car and abandoned it in woods where he left Bachtel’s body covered with brush.
Hagin confessed he shot Bachtel with a .410 rifle. He reportedly grabbed the rifle off a tractor where he knew an acquaintance kept his shotgun.
Hagin now has a full 40-year prison term to remember how drugs altered the course of his life and took his friend’s life.
“All because of drugs,” Harrison County Circuit Judge Lisa Dodson told Hagin, Assistant District Attorney Alison Baker said.
The prosecution in what started with a capital murder arrest took some turns before it resulted in a mistrial in March. A new trial was about to start Tuesday when Hagin decided to take a plea.
A mistrial and a dog
Hagin had faced a capital murder charge based on the belief that he robbed Bachtel of meth because he didn’t have $100 to pay Bachtel. A Harrison County grand jury indicted Hagin on a lesser charge of murder.
Ten months ago, Dodson declared a mistrial after the jury heard a recorded interview in which deputies talked about incriminating statements made by Hagin’s wife, Crosby said.
Crosby had asked Dodson at the start of the March trial to invoke a court rule that a spouse cannot testify against their spouse without the defendant’s agreement. Dodson agreed and later approved Crosby’s request for a mistrial over the recording.
A dog was in the courtroom during the trial. The man who owns the land where the crime occurred, Davis Hawn, testified. He is believed to be the first witness in a Harrison County trial to get approval to bring a service dog to the witness stand to keep himself calm.
On the morning of the second trial, prosecutors agreed to accept Hagin’s plea.
Dodson imposed the maximum prison term and ordered Hagin to serve his sentence day for day. He was prosecuted as a habitual offender because of prior felony convictions — attempted grand larceny in 2009 and taking a motor vehicle in 2010.
Hagin was on probation for one of those convictions when he was arrested.
Bachtel had last been seen June 2, 2014, when he borrowed a woman’s Honda Accord. He and the car were reported missing in a couple of weeks.
A confidential informant gave sheriff’s investigators a tip that Hagin had talked about killing Bachtel, previous testimony showed.
Deputies found Hagin at a friend’s apartment in Lyman on June 20, 2014, and he confessed to investigators. Deputies found Bachtel’s remains in woods that night along with the car Bachtel had borrowed.
The Mississippi Forensics Laboratory, previously known as the State Crime Lab, found Bachtel’s blood on the shotgun, ADA Alison Baker said.
‘All over drugs’
Hagin received the judge’s permission to turn around and talk to Bachtel’s family and friends during the sentencing.
Crosby said it was one of the most emotional pleas he’s ever witnessed.
Hagin, Crosby recalled, told the family something like this:
“I want you to know that I am very sorry and wish it didn’t happen. I have absolutely nothing to gain by saying this to you, because it does not affect my sentence, but for whatever it’s worth, I want you to know this.”
Several members of Bachtel’s family shook Crosby’s hand while leaving the courtroom and some hugged members of Hagin’s family, he said.
“My client feels terrible about what happened,” Crosby said.
“He hopes that other people will begin to understand the harshness of drugs. Brian lost his life and Stephen lost every remaining part of his life. Loving family members on both sides shall continue to suffer for many years. All over drugs.”