Terry David Bateman and Bradley Allen Rowland, the two former Henderson State University chemistry professors who were arrested in November for allegedly making methamphetamine, pleaded not guilty to all charges on Feb. 4. The chemists are formally charged with making methamphetamine, possession of paraphernalia for making methamphetamine, possession of the methamphetamine precursor phenylpropanolamine, and manufacture of a controlled substance in a drug-free zone (the university).
According to an affidavit filed by Sheriff Jason Watson, in Dec. 2018 HSU faculty reported that Bateman and Rowland were behaving in a suspicious manner that led the faculty to believe the two were involved in illegal activity in one of the chemistry laboratories. The HSU staff told a university lawyer that Bateman and Rowland had “exhibited drastic changes in their personal hygiene and weight loss.” Both professors were seen in the laboratory late at night and early in the morning and “were extremely guarded towards other faculty and students who came into the laboratory.”
The next month police officers visited one of the school’s laboratories and discovered an overwhelming odor they recognized as phenyl-2-propanone (P2P), a precursor used in the synthesis of amphetamine and methamphetamine. But the officers found nothing else that indicated controlled substances were being made in the laboratory, the affidavit states.
Because of restrictions on the sale of two methamphetamine precursors, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, P2P has become a popular starting material for making the drug, says Paul C. Trippier, a medicinal chemist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. P2P lacks the chiral center that’s present in ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, so when people make methamphetamine using P2P, they usually end up with the racemate—a 50/50 mixture of stereoisomers. Half of the material is the stimulant and controlled substance methamphetamine and the other half is a common decongestant.
“It’s a less elegant synthesis,” Trippier says. “Obviously whoever is making this on the street doesn’t really care about the enantioselectivity of the reaction.” In Breaking Bad, Walter White, the fictional chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine maker, also used the P2P method.
Police officers and investigators returned to the HSU laboratory in October 2019 after a spill of the P2P precursor benzyl chloride that shuttered the university science building for three weeks. During this time, the officers took samples from the lab with the spill for chemical analysis and determined they contained methamphetamine and/or phenyl-2-propanone.
In November, officers executed a search-and-seizure warrant on Bateman and Rowland’s offices at HSU. The officers forced open a locked metal safe in Bateman’s office. It smelled strongly of P2P and contained 190 glass vials with visible chemical residue. Preliminary field tests of two vials and a flask from another HSU laboratory indicated the presence of methamphetamine, according to the affidavit.
Although the two chemists are charged with possession of phenylpropanolamine, a precursor to methamphetamine, there is no mention of the compound in the affidavit. It is not an intermediate in the P2P route to methamphetamine, says Shawn Hitchcock an organic chemist at Illinois State University.
Pretrial hearing in Bateman’s and Rowland’s cases are scheduled for April 7. The chemists are no longer employed by HSU. Their attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.