Twist in Sedgefield killing: Victim was Narcotics Anonymous sponsor

Twist in Sedgefield killing: Victim was Narcotics Anonymous sponsor

Christopher Huffman

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by CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR. / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on January 31, 2013 at 7:54 AM

Updated Monday, Nov 4 at 8:08 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The man accused of killing Charles Middleton at his south Charlotte home Saturday morning was a man he’d sponsored while involved in a Narcotics Anonymous program years ago, people close to the situation say.

On Monday, Christopher Paul Huffman was taken into custody in Casa Grande, Ariz., more than 2,000 miles from the scene of the shooting on Elmhurst Road in the Sedgefield neighborhood adjacent to Dilworth.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg homicide detectives traveled to Arizona on Monday to interview Huffman, who had no criminal record. Police have not divulged a possible motive in the killing or said whether Middleton’s sponsorship work with Huffman made him a target.

It’s unclear how many people Middleton sponsored in his two decades with 12-step programs in Charlotte. He was one of the longest-tenured members of his weekly meeting group, which was made up of gay men who are also recovering addicts, friends said.

Middleton took leadership roles and engaged other members, chatting over coffee before the meetings or at dinner afterward. He asked people to call him “Mike,” an abbreviation of his middle name. He freely gave out his cellphone number, friends said.

He was semi-retired but still worked part time in credit and collections. He doted on his two cats and also recently had started taking theater appreciation classes at Central Piedmont Community College. Middleton and his friends regularly bought season tickets to plays at the college.

Details of the interactions between Middleton and Huffman were still hazy on Wednesday. Two people who knew Middleton – both of whom asked for anonymity – say the two men met at a 12-step meeting about four years ago. At some point, Huffman asked Middleton to sponsor him. For a while in 2008, they both lived a few doors down from each other on Ardmore Road in Sedgefield.

But their interactions over the next four years are unclear.

“We don’t know why and we don’t know the story behind what happened,” said a Narcotics Anonymous member. “We do know Mike has sponsored and helped a lot of people. … He’d extend his hand to a total stranger at times.”

But for some people involved in local 12-step programs, the link reminded them of the need for caution in dealing with troubled addicts.

“It is almost a sacred thing. These are people who so freely give of themselves,” said a Narcotics Anonymous member who declined to give his name because the association frowns on speaking to the press. “How do they know that the people who we are trying to help are not going to do us harm?”

Few rules for sponsors

For recovering addicts, sponsorship is a complicated, but close relationship. A sponsor helps a person navigate some of the harder steps of recovery: making amends to people who’ve been harmed, conducting what Narcotics Anonymous calls “a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves,” and sharing a story of addiction with others.

But members say there are few solid rules about sponsorship in the global organization, which says it holds 61,800 weekly meetings in 129 countries. While members encourage frankness on the path to recovery, the organization is often tight-lipped with outsiders and the media about the details of sponsorship.

In a three-page pamphlet on sponsorship, the Narcotics Anonymous organization recommends frequent communication, and discourages romantic entanglements. But it’s unclear if the organization offers sponsors advice on how to protect themselves from the ill effects of another person’s addiction.

A person who answered the phone at the Metrolina Intergroup Association, a conglomeration of recovery groups in the Charlotte area, declined to comment about the relationship between Middleton and Huffman or sponsorship relationships generally.

“We have a tradition that we maintain our anonymity at the press level,” the woman said. Public relations officials with the national Narcotics Anonymous office in Van Nuys, Calif., did not return calls seeking comment.

One recovering addict in Charlotte said members are especially wary at open meetings, which involve people from all walks of life and often from unknown backgrounds.

“We’re not supposed to judge, but this is the real world,” she said. “If somebody’s making me feel uncomfortable, either I’m going to say something or I’m going or leave.”

‘A gut instinct’

She said there aren’t many written rules about sponsorships, but experienced sponsors encourage people to be cautious.

“It really has to be a gut instinct and you say to yourself that you’re not going to have them come to your house, you’ll meet them at Starbucks, some place public. It’s a huge deal, because people just come in off the street. We have people from jails, institutions.”

William White, a Florida researcher who’s written about the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs, said it’s unlikely that one incident will spark widespread change.

“Anytime something like this breaks publicly, there’s a period of soul searching in organizations like this in general,” White said. “Safety is not an issue that comes up across the board except in the aftermath.”

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