FIVE TEENS CHARGED WITH MURDER OVER-DOSE CASE IN MINNESOTA INVOLVING 17-YEAR-OLD GIRL

Following on the heels of a double-homicide in rural Minnesota, the same prosecutor has announced murder charges against five teenagers in Washington County, Minnesota. The county seat is in Stillwater, a river town which was incorporated in 1854 making it one of the oldest cities in Minnesota. According to Washington County Attorney, Pete Orput, third-degree murder charges were filed against Cole Alexander Matenaer (19); Alexander Lee Claussen (19); Sydney Claire Johnson (17); Alistair Curtis Berg (17); and Brian Phillip Norlander (17).  Police believe the drug, “25iNBOME” (a psychoactive drug) was ingested by Tara Fitzgerald (17), and she died from an overdose on January 11th, 2014. The prosecutor’s theory is that each of the defendants handled or participated in the distribution of the drug which ultimately caused Fitzgerald’s death. Matenaer was arrested on January 13th of this year while he was driving a black Audi; 34 doses of a substance similar to the type used in the Fitzgerald homicide case were seized from the vehicle. At the time, Matenaer allegedly stated that the drugs were selling for $10.00 a unit.

Orput recently successfully prosecuted Byron Smith in a Little Falls, Minnesota double-murder case involving two teens who had broken into his house. In that case, the jury rejected Smith’s self-defense claims, and Smith received a life sentence. Orput had been specially recruited to prosecute that case.

Minnesota Law does not require intent when someone causes the death by providing a controlled substance to the person who dies. The “Guideline” sentence for this crime is approximately 150 months although different penalties are frequently agreed upon. All of the defendants are presumed to be innocent.

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  1. UPDATE: Alexander Lee Claussen (20) and Cole Alexander Matenaer (19) entered “straight” pleas to 3rd degree murder charges. Claussen was sentenced to 74 months in prison; Matenaer received a sentence of 1 year with 15 years of probation. They were 19 at the time of Tara Fitzgerald’s death, she was 17. Sydney Claire Johnson, Alistair Curtis Berg and Brian Phillip Norlander were all juveniles at the time and are facing further hearings; the county may attempt to certify them as adults. Emotions ran high, on both sides of the aisle, at the sentencing hearing. Tara’s father, Thomas Fitzgerald testified and said “[Tara] was just an intuitive and amazingly talented girl”. The sentences, pursuant to state statute, should be reduced by 1/3rd absent any disciplinary problems while incarcerated. The defendants showed signs of remorse and were visually emotional as well. COMMENT: These types of cases are always sad, loved ones are lost, people lose their liberty and the family members of both sides experience grief. We think that the worse punishment should be reserved for the dealers, but consideration should be given to the offender’s age, criminal record and remorse; such considerations appear to have taken place here. We do not think that this is a time for law enforcement to tout their accomplishments and summon the need for stronger laws (and more funding for them)- such ideas have recently been rejected on the federal level. Rather, this is another sad case that calls out for more education on the harmful effects of drugs and programs offering immediate treatment when necessary.

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