published Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Cook: One man's iodine is another's meth

As we pass the time waiting and watching to see if Marion County authorities will charge and arrest the teenagers who confessed to harassing and assaulting a Raccoon Mountain cyclist 11 days ago -- we're still investigating, a detective said earlier this week -- let's talk about another crime.

Selling iodine. Bottles and bottles and bottles and bottles of iodine.

"He was selling 10 bottles at a time, sometimes 12," a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.

The man on trial is Terry Honeycutt, the younger son of Bill Honeycutt, longtime owner of well-known Brainerd Army Store. In brown dress shoes and an Army-green suit, he sat in federal court Tuesday, listening as attorneys selected jurors and the judge laid out the charges against him.

Essentially, it's this: Honeycutt knowingly sold iodine -- too much iodine -- to people who then used it in the most nefarious of ways.

"To manufacture methamphetamine," said the judge, reading the charges.

It's called Polar Pure: a single bottle of almost pure iodine that can purify 500 gallons of water, making it the preferred choice for area meth cooks who soon realized, prosecutors claim, that the Brainerd Army store was the best place to buy it.

In 2007, Honeycutt sold exactly two bottles of Polar Pure off the Brainerd Army store shelves. Not three. Only two.

But by 2010, he was selling -- umm, how shall we put this? -- a heckuva lot more than two bottles.

"Twenty-one thousand bottles," the prosecutor said.

It's enough to purify 10.5 million gallons of water. I hope they make a visual chart of this: from two bottles to 21,000. We'd get cricks just looking at it.

Between 2008 and 2010, federal and local investigators watched the Brainerd store while undercover agents tested Honeycutt's willingness to sell Polar Pure to less than pure customers. Undercover agents would pose as shady, shaky buyers, asking questions most outdoorsfolk don't: Can I buy a case? Can I then come back and buy another one?

"Knowing that meth cooks were using that iodone, he sold it anyway," said the prosecutor.

Not so fast, said the defense. In 2008, Honeycutt called authorities first before they began to watch him; he had a growing hunch that this iodine was being purchased for meth, and he wanted help in doing the right thing.

"Terry tried to make suggestions. Terry tried to ask for regulations," said his defense attorney. "He was willing to completely quit selling it."

Honeycutt, who is salaried with no ownership in the store, theoretically gained nothing from the profit -- $270,000, to be exact -- that came from Polar Pure sales. And on the day law enforcement raided his store, Honeycutt, who was elsewhere, drove back to Brainerd Road to help investigators with their searching and seizing.

"He's pled not guilty because he is not guilty," said his attorney.

That's for the jury to decide. Before the opening statements, it took a half hour for attorneys to make their final selections. Potential jurors waited, and yawned. Shut their eyes. Rubbed their necks. One read a hardback book.

How commonplace.

Just like meth.

This case has multiple implications, the first being that we are reminded again of the everydayness of meth. Some drugs are imported from south of the border. But meth? It just takes a trip to the Dollar General.

So should cold medicine be regulated? Is it a good thing if the law requires us to have a doctor's prescription just for CVS to sell us allergy medicine?

It is the pressing question of our age: How much of our freedoms do we sacrifice in the name of safety?

Second, Honeycutt is white. We have given so much attention to black men conspiring to sell drugs, but here is a white man in federal court on very similar charges.

If found guilty, do we count him among the worst of the worst?

And third, why did he keep selling it? Two bottles to 21,000 is suspicious, and even if Honeycutt is innocent as a dove, is it ethically wrong for him to sell Polar Pure to people who'll meth it up into an evil substance?

"It destroys you," said one woman out in the hallway as the trial began.

She was a potential juror who was dismissed after she told the court she may not be capable of being fair and impartial. She used to live next to one of the worst meth dealers in her county. Confused addicts with their sunken faces would knock on her door instead of his. Empty Sudafed boxes all over the yard. He began threatening her, looking in her window.

And he was once a pretty decent guy.

"Once you get hooked on it, it turns you into an animal," she said.

How do we purify ourselves against that?

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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