Brad Nettles // The Post and Courier

Brian Hardison doesnít hate the man who sold heroin to his son Evan. Instead he sees another lost soul from a good family who was done in by a drug deal that went horribly wrong.

Brian Hardison has waited nearly four years to see justice come for the man who set his son's death in motion.

That day will finally arrive Tuesday, when Nathaniel Colleton goes before a federal judge to be sentenced for selling a lethal batch of heroin that killed Hardison's only son.

Evan Hardison had just turned 18 when his first taste of heroin proved to be his last. By all accounts, he was a good kid. A straight-A student, a hard worker, independent and self-sufficient. All that erased with one jab of a needle at a Mount Pleasant party in October 2007.

Evan's dad wants to see Colleton punished for that, no doubt about it. But Brian Hardison doesn't hate the man. He doesn't even know him. He just sees another lost soul from a good family who was done in by a drug deal that went horribly wrong.

Colleton, a 26-year-old father of two with no prior convictions, is facing at least 20 years in federal prison for his heroin sales, and he could well get more time, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Phillips.

After all, Colleton was busted again for slinging dope in 2009 while he was out on bail in connection with the Hardison case.

Federal prosecutors went after him with the so-called "Len Bias law," aimed at dealers whose sales lead to grave injury or death. The law is named after a University of Maryland basketball standout who died from a cocaine overdose just days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1986.

Brian Hardison doesn't see any winners in this story. He just hopes that telling it will alert other parents to the shadowy threat of heroin use in suburban communities like Mount Pleasant.

"Both Evan and Nathaniel came from good families, and I don't think either family really knew what was going on," he said. "This might be going on in your house right now, and you're just not aware of it."

A risky choice

Brian Hardison tried to discourage his son from moving back to Mount Pleasant in the summer of 2007. After slacking in his studies at Wando High, Evan had gone to live with his mother in Indiana.

He got back on track and graduated with top-flight grades. His family hoped he would go on to Purdue University.

Evan wanted to come back to the coast to be near his friends and the ocean. He moved in with a couple of buddies and went to work at his father's construction company. At night, he worked a second job at a sushi restaurant.

He was determined to pay his own way, be his own man. To that end, he enrolled in Trident Technical College and set his sights on becoming an architect.

Things seemed to be going well until Evan went to a party at a friend's home in Oakhaven Plantation on Oct. 22, 2007. As the party broke up that night, someone suggested getting some heroin from a dealer on Charleston's East Side. The deal went through, but they got more than they bargained for.

The heroin was extremely potent, much more than they could handle. By the next morning, one girl was incoherent. Evan was much worse.

A slow death

Police found him unresponsive and slumped over the passenger seat of his car after someone called 911. According to his father, a panicked person at the party house put Evan in the car, moved it down the street and called police anonymously to avoid tough questions.

Paramedics rushed him to the hospital, but there was little they could do. His brain and other organs had suffered severe damage from a lack of oxygen to his system, his father said.

His stunned family kept a vigil at his bedside. For a while, it looked like Evan might wake up, but those hopes faded as the days passed.

"After five days he went into a non-existent state," his father said. "He was still alive and breathing on his own, but he didn't have any brain function."

Evan was eventually moved to a hospice facility. His family kept praying that he somehow would come out of it, but the damage was too severe. On Nov. 20, 2007, Evan's body finally gave out. An autopsy determined that his death was caused by "complications of acute opiate toxicity."

"I don't even know how to describe what it's like to take a month out of your life, out of your business, out of everything you do to sit by your child's side and watch him die and not be able to do anything about it," his father said.

Finding the source

One of Evan's friends told Brian Hardison about the heroin use at the party, and he passed along the information to Mount Pleasant police. Detective Mike Lynch pledged to look into the tip.

Lynch and other investigators spent months interviewing witnesses and tracing the heroin's path to its source. The drugs Evan and his friends had purchased had a special stamp, a trademark that set them apart from other batches, authorities said. That trademark finally led them to Colleton's door.

On the surface, Colleton seemed an unlikely drug dealer. He had grown up in a solid home. His mom was a paralegal and church pastor, his dad a longtime employee of The Citadel.

Colleton was a high school graduate. He played music for church services and volunteered to teach underprivileged kids how to read, his attorney, Dale Cobb, said.

Cobb said his client turned to selling drugs after he lost his construction job and couldn't find work. Whether it was that or the lure of easy money, as police suspect, Colleton's new occupation would short-circuit whatever future he had planned for himself.

Police began to circle and build a case against Colleton. Charleston police finally nabbed him in March 2008 after he twice sold heroin to undercover officers in the city. Sheriff's deputies lumped on another charge after finding crack cocaine during a search of his North Charleston apartment, according to arrest affidavits.

Federal prosecutors adopted the case and went after Colleton with a four-count indictment for heroin sales, accusing him of conspiring to distribute more than 100 grams of the drug and selling the batch that killed Evan.

During an undercover purchase, Colleton alluded to knowing that his drugs had brought harm to the teen, prosecutors said.

Colleton was released on $100,000 bail in June 2008 and pleaded guilty to two of the four counts a year later. He was still free on bail and awaiting sentencing when Charleston County sheriff's deputies caught him in an undercover sting selling more heroin to a police informant on Aug. 26, 2009, according to police reports.

Federal prosecutors indicted him again, and Colleton pleaded guilty to that charge in October of last year. On Tuesday, the case finally comes to judgment.

In a motion filed last week, Colleton's attorney asked that the judge to consider a lower penalty than the 27- to 33-year range specified in the advisory sentencing guidelines. He said Colleton understands the consequences of his actions and has cooperated with the government.

"He is completely remorseful and wishes the Hardison family to understand his remorse, whether or not they can forgive his action," the motion stated.

Brian Hardison will be there when Colleton is sentenced. He said he harbors no feelings of revenge, but he wants to see Colleton punished for what he has done.

"I really feel it is in God's hands what happens to him," he said. "Nothing is going to bring my son back. That part is over. But the thing that makes me feel good is ... at least this person is not going to make this happen to someone else."