A Richland heroin dealer who admitted that his drugs have killed people was told Wednesday that if he doesn't get help in prison, he will end up dead.
Brian Haney Burt was ordered to spend five years behind bars for the death of a 44-year-old grandmother who overdosed after using his heroin.
The sentence handed down in Benton County Superior Court was for his guilty plea earlier this month to one count of controlled substance homicide.
He pleaded guilty Tuesday in Franklin County Superior Court to the same charge for another victim, and is expected to get a sentence next week that will be served at the same time.
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"These are difficult cases to try and prove, and Mr. Burt has pled guilty and he has accepted responsibility for it and that's a step in the right direction," said Judge Robert Swisher, who has presided over Burt's case in both counties.
Swisher told the 35-year-old man he needs to get treatment in prison, because "you're going to end up dead if you don't."
Burt reportedly knew that people were dying from his "high-quality" heroin over the past few years, yet he kept delivering it to feed his own addiction.
His guilty pleas are for the 2010 deaths of Shirley E. Sanders in Kennewick and Derek Scott Bradley in Pasco, yet police and prosecutors have linked him to at least three other fatal overdoses.
The cases fall under a rarely used law that says a person can be charged for unlawfully delivering a controlled substance that kills someone.
Sanders was a homemaker who died at home on May 22, 2010. Burt was present when she died and was seen by a police officer leaving the room.
Burt had a second charge in Benton County for Liam D. Hermsen, 29, of Richland, who died in November 2009.
That charge was dismissed as a part of negotiations, but Prosecutor Andy Miller told the Herald the plea agreement "was intended to achieve justice for all of the families, not just the families whose loved one's death was included in a guilty plea."
On Wednesday, mother Deirdre Hermsen recalled for the court how Richland officers asked her and her husband, Tim, what resolution they would like to see out of this case.
"Our focus remains the same now as when RPD asked us the question: We are not seeking revenge for Liam's death," she said.
The Hermsen family wants Burt to receive drug treatment for his heroin addiction, including continued drug testing whilehe is on 12 months of community supervision after his release from prison.
"Liam's death changed our world forever. When not lost in his addiction, Liam was a remarkable artist, a gifted writer, a loving son and brother. If he had been able to live drug-free, his life would have had an impact on the world," Deirdre Hermsen told Swisher. "While we believe Liam has found peace, and that we will see him again, there is a gaping hole in the fabric of our lives that will never be mended."
Deirdre Hermsen added that her family deeply understands what it means to lose a son, and doesn't want another family to suffer that loss. "I continue to hold Mr. Burt and his family in my prayers," she said.
In the Franklin County case, Burt brought heroin to Bradley's home sometime between June 30 and July 2, 2010, and the two injected the drug together. Burt later found Bradley "cool to the touch and getting stiff" and panicked, running from the home without getting help, court documents said.
Bradley was 21 when he died. His mother found him July 2 when she went to check on Bradley after not seeing him since June 30.
Burt on Wednesday apologized to the families and the court.