Man Found Guilty Of Possessing Drugs As Inmate

A guilty verdict was handed down Tuesday against a man for possessing papers containing a drug referred to as synthetic marijuana while he was an Adams County Prison inmate.

Devonte Betts, 29, of Steelton, Pa., was found guilty of second-degree felonies of possessing a controlled substance or contraband as an inmate and criminal attempt of possessing a controlled substance or contraband as an inmate, in addition to an ungraded misdemeanor, simple possession of a controlled substance, according to Adams County Assistant District Attorney Kyle Reuter.

The two-day jury trial started on Monday at 1:15 p.m. in before Adams County Court of Common Pleas Judge Shawn Wagner in Courtroom 1, continuing Tuesday until around 1 p.m., when jurors began deliberating, Reuter said.

Jurors deliberated for about an hour and 10 minutes before rendering a guilty verdict, Reuter said.

“I thought the verdict was appropriate given all the evidence and facts presented in the case,” Reuter said.

Private attorney Richard Hark, who represented Betts, said they “respect the verdict” and “are exploring the legal issues and appellate options.” Hark is from a regional criminal defense firm, Hark & Hark, with offices in Montgomery County, Philadelphia, and Cherry Hill, N.J.

“We were disappointed that the jury did not find that the evidentiary and investigatory errors and mistakes in the prison paperwork and chain of custody issues created reasonable doubt on how and why the evidence was attributed to Mr. Betts,” Hark said.

Seven sheets of legal paperwork were seized Sept. 30, 2020, as Betts was moved from one cell to another, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Cameron Beck.

The sheets were allegedly “not consistent with the type of paper that is normally used for legal paperwork and the pages were discolored. As a result, it’s believed the seven sheets of paper contain suspected controlled substance,” according to the affidavit.

During a prison video chat with Betts recorded Jan. 25, 2021, a woman can allegedly “be heard discussing in the background to send K-2 and make money,” according to the affidavit.

K-2 is among “synthetic designer drugs that are intended to mimic THC, the main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana,” according to a federal Drug Enforcement Administration resource guide.

Three days later Betts “sent a two-page letter” to the woman asking her to call a number he would provide and “tell him you want like two of the best quality V-day cards he can come up with. Get the price. Get ’em secured and we’ll go from there,” according to the affidavit.

On Feb. 4, 2021, a different woman allegedly sent a letter to Betts including a picture “containing suspected controlled substance,” according to the affidavit.

According to a subsequent lab report, the paperwork and picture contained a controlled substance, according to the affidavit.

The drug was determined to be MDMB-4en-PINACA, which can be referred to as synthetic marijuana, Reuter said.

Reuter did not know why Betts was held in Adams County Prison, noting it was “not relevant in trial.”

The trial included testimony from Beck, the prison captain, a drug identification expert, and a forensic handwriting analyst from Pennsylvania State Police, according to Reuter.

The handwriting expert was able to “compare and contrast other letters the defendant wrote” and concluded that Betts penned the letters, Reuter said.

Hark emphasized that the prosecution’s two expert witnesses and Beck “were not involved in the seizure, accumulation, and cataloging of the evidence from the Adams County Prison.”

The commonwealth’s success in the case stemmed from “Beck’s credible and extremely competent testimony,” according to Hark.

Betts’ sentencing is set for Aug. 22. Betts was remanded to jail after trial with a new bail of $150,000 cash set, Reuter said. Hark said he objected to the bail increase since Betts has “appeared in court at every court hearing for over two years during COVID.”

Reuter recognized the work of jurors and thanked them for their service.

“I appreciate the time and effort they took in reaching the verdict. Regardless of the outcome, it is always a difficult task,” Reuter said.

Adams County Assistant District Attorney Gerry Scott assisted as second chair during the trial.