TAMPA — A man who was battling a murder charge related to a friend’s accidental overdose died suddenly last month, court records show, bringing an abrupt end to an unusual criminal case.
Stephen Elbert Bowman died in early March after a sudden illness, his attorney said. This month, the state filed a notice formally dropping the charges against him.
Bowman, 60, was accused of first-degree murder under an obscure provision of state law that allows such a charge when a death results from the unlawful distribution of drugs. It is a controversial legal tool that prosecutors have used more frequently in recent years.
Although the murder charge is commonly viewed as a means of addressing the opioid crisis, Bowman’s case was unique in that it did not involve an opioid drug. He was accused of giving GHB — or gamma hydroxybutyrate — to a friend, Hannibal Mowry, who later died.
Bowman’s attorney, Brian Gonzalez, said the situation was an accident and that Bowman never meant any harm.
“He was not a drug seller, not a drug supplier,” Gonzalez said. “It was a situation where they both partook and one didn’t wake up.”
Bowman called 911 from his Carrollwood-area apartment the morning of Nov. 8, 2020, and reported that he found Mowry, 25, unresponsive. He said he tried to revive him for 30 minutes before seeking help, according to court records. Paramedics pronounced Mowry dead.
In an interview with detectives, Bowman claimed Mowry was already under the influence of GHB when he arrived at the apartment the previous evening and asked him to get more. Bowman obtained an ounce of the drug from someone else and later gave it to Mowry. They both went to sleep about 2 a.m.
GHB became popular among nightclub-goers in the 1990s. It is sometimes used to build muscle, but is also known for its euphoric and aphrodisiac effects. It is often referred to as a “date rape drug” due to its ability to increase libido, suggestibility and memory loss.
Bowman, who worked as an accountant and salesman, had no prior criminal history. He had been free on $50,000 bail since his arrest in August.
“It was a very sad situation,” Gonzalez said. “He was genuinely very upset and traumatized by this incident.”
Bowman was at the center of a similar death investigation in 2019 when a person described as a sexual partner died from an overdose of GHB and methamphetamine under similar circumstances. That death was deemed an accident and no charges were filed.
The criminal case presented some tricky legal issues, notably the lack of intent present in most murder cases. The case was quietly moving in court, with attorneys examining evidence and conducting pretrial testimony of witnesses. In early March, Bowman became sick, his condition complicated by a chronic illness, his attorney said. He died March 4.
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Bowman was one of at least a half-dozen people in Hillsborough County who have been charged with murder related to drug overdose deaths.