Former chemistry professor pleads guilty to manufacturing meth in college lab

Bradley Rowland (left) and Terry David Bateman

The story sounded like it was made for Hollywood: Two chemistry professors in a small Arkansas college town accused of cooking methamphetamine in their school laboratory.

On the night of Oct. 7, 2019, a chemical spill occurred in Room 304 at Henderson State University’s Reynolds Science Center. The next day, a strong odor filled the building, forcing the school to evacuate the building and cancel classes. Weeks later, Terry David Bateman, 47, and Bradley Rowland, 42, were arrested and charged with manufacturing meth and other drug-related offenses.

But since then, the tale hasn’t followed a clear script. Last week, almost two years after his arrest, Bateman was acquitted of all charges by a Clark County Circuit Court jury, despite incriminating testimony from Rowland.

Then, on Friday, Rowland pleaded guilty in the same Arkadelphia courtroom to three felonies — manufacturing meth, drug paraphernalia use, and manufacture of a controlled substance, phenylacetone. Also known as P2P or phenyl-2-propanone, the substance is the penultimate chemical step in a common technique used to manufacture meth.

As part of a plea agreement, Rowland was sentenced to 120 days in the county jail and six years of supervised probation. 

Rowland also was ordered to pay the college $149,917 in restitution — the amount Henderson has spent to clean and repair the three-story science building. Rowland paid $10,000 of the sum Friday and is to pay $25,000 more within 30 days, Prosecuting Attorney Dan Turner said.

Wearing a dark suit and tie and standing next to his attorney, Rowland said little in court other than to answer Judge Blake Batson’s questions: “Yes Sir,” “No, Your Honor,” “Very much so, Your Honor.”

Under the plea agreement, he also must complete 200 hours of community service and undergo substance abuse treatment and counseling.

“The plea entered by Rowland was reviewed and approved by the administration of HSU with a specific intent on attempting to recover restitution and hold those involved accountable,” Turner said in a news release.

There was no immediate comment Friday from Jeff Hankins, a spokesman for the Arkansas State University System, of which Henderson is now a part. In an email, he said he was traveling and would have to respond to questions Monday.

Rowland’s attorney, Clinton Mathis, said he felt “that the sentence accurately reflects [Rowland’s] acceptance of responsibility, the degree of his assistance to the state, Brad’s sincere desire to become a benefit to society and make right any damage he had a part in causing.”

Mathis said his client had “an absolutely clean record up until the point of this plea.”

Turner said Rowland’s “lack of any criminal history, cooperation and efforts to make restitution  were all things we took into consideration.”

Law enforcement authorities found a safe in Bateman’s office that contained about 160 empty glass vials, many of which tested positive for methamphetamine. But Bateman testified last month that the safe belonged to Rowland, even though the two did not share an office. (Bateman resigned his position at Henderson about two weeks after his arrest, and Rowland was fired in January 2020.)

The case gained national attention because of its similarities to “Breaking Bad,” the popular television series about a meth-making high school chemistry teacher. The publicity came at an already difficult time for Henderson, a small campus in the Ouachita foothills. In 2019, the university had a budget deficit that forced it to get a $6 million state loan and later join the Arkansas State University system. 

In the news release, Turner said Henderson was “a part of the identity of our community and is such an important part of Clark County.”

“I am hopeful that bringing this episode to a conclusion will allow the University to move forward and wish it nothing but success in the future,” the prosecutor said.

This story is courtesy of the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans.

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The Arkansas Nonprofit News Network is an independent, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans. Our work is re-published by partner newsrooms across the state.