An NC college student died of a drug overdose. Now this man is charged with murder

Benjamnin Franklin Steele Jr.
Benjamnin Franklin Steele Jr. CCBI

Bryan Spain spent the night at a friend's house in Raleigh last summer while traveling from Appalachian State University to his hometown in Pamlico County.

The next morning, his friend found Spain, a 19-year-old criminal justice major, dead on the couch.

The state medical examiner in January determined that Spain died from a poisonous mixture of fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl and fentanyl, an opioid that can be 100 times more powerful than morphine.

An autopsy report listed Spain's death as an accidental overdose. But police think it was murder.

Last month, a Wake County grand jury handed up indictments charging murder against a 27-year-old man accused of selling Spain the deadly batch of drugs.

Benjamin Franklin Steele Jr. of Durham has also been charged with one felony count each of selling heroin, delivery of heroin and possession with intent to sell and deliver heroin, according to indictments filed in Wake County Superior Court.

The jurors handed up an indictment for murder against Steele after concluding that as a consequence of the drug deal, he "unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did ... kill and murder Bryan Michael Spain," according to the indictment.

Spain was found dead at 7:10 a.m. June 23 inside a home in the 5800 block of Waycross Street. He was last seen alive the night before at about 8 p.m., according to the autopsy report.

Spain had "a medical history of marijuana and Xanax abuse," according to the report. "A small amount of substance reported to be heroin and some unmarked pills were found in the residence," it says.

Steele has been in prison since last July, when he was convicted of common law robbery in Durham County and sentenced to two years, two months and 19 days behind bars.

Prior to last month's charges, he was scheduled to be released Aug. 26, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

Spain's friends and family, in an online obituary, described him as confident, self-assured and intelligent, with a larger-than-life presence that belied his small stature.

He was a talented student and athlete who graduated from Pamlico County High School in 2015 and transferred to Appalachian State University after completing 48 college credits from Pamlico Community College, according to the obituary.

Spain's father attended ASU, and it was the only university he wanted to attend, the obituary says.