NC ‘Len Bias’ Sentence Cited in Heroin Prosecution

Drug dealer gets 27-year term for causing another man’s death. Prosecutor says Justice Department will use 1988 federal law providing for mandatory minimum sentences more often.

A North Carolina federal judge invoked a little-used statute named after Len Bias, a college basketball star who died of a drug overdose, to sentence a man to more than 25 years in prison after selling a batch of heroin that led to another man’s death, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. Elton Wayne Walston was sentenced to 27 years in prison by Judge Louise Flanagan after he was found guilty of distributing heroin that resulted in the death of a Wilson, N.C., man in 2015. Walston, 66, was also found guilty of one count each of possession with intent to distribute heroin and illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition, along with four counts of distribution of heroin.

Walston was sentenced under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, also called the Len Bias Law the all-American University of Maryland basketball player who died of a cocaine overdose in 1986, two days after he was the second overall pick by the Boston Celtics in the NBA draft. Critics say Bias’ led to federal laws that helped cause “the New Jim Crow” of mass incarceration and mandatory minimum sentencing. U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon said the opioid crisis is a matter of life and death. “The death result law will be used more and more frequently,” Higdon said. “Our office, along with the entire U.S. Department of Justice, is determined to hold accountable those who deal these deadly drugs to enrich themselves. This prosecution is an example of that determination.”