A woman who supplied heroin to a 19-year-old Maple Grove man must spend the anniversary of his March 5, 2013, overdose death in jail for the next 10 years, Hennepin County Judge Lyonel Norris ruled Wednesday.
Calling the case one of the most difficult of his career, Norris turned down the state's request for a stiff prison sentence for Katelyn Dreyling, 19, also of Maple Grove, who faced a third-degree murder charge over Andrew Scheig's death.
"There really is no right that can be done here," said Norris. State prosecutors had asked for the full 86-month prison term allowed under state sentencing guidelines, but Norris said he had to take into account Dreyling's young age and the hope that she could be rehabilitated.
Court proceedings against a second defendant accused of supplying Scheig with heroin, Kevin Gustafson, 20, are ongoing.
The sentencing of Dreyling took place after William and Becky Scheig told the court about the life of their only son, whom they described as loyal, loving and troubled by mental illness and drug addiction.
A bright, inquisitive, funny little boy, Andrew showed signs of depression about the fourth grade and his parents suspected he was struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Becky Scheig said. It was the beginning of an up-and-down struggle to help Andrew through an adolescence that was at times normal and at times a struggle with mental illness and a feeling that he didn't fit in. He had also used drugs off and on and went through therapy, but at the time of his death his family was feeling positive about his future.
Andrew was starting a new job on March 5, so Becky Scheig went to his room to gently wake him. She touched his shoulder and immediately she was overcome with "the most awful feeling," she told the court.
Moments later she and her husband, an emergency room physician, were engaged in a life or death battle to save Andrew. Now, William Scheig told the court, he knows they didn't stand a chance. Andrew had overdosed on heroin sometime in the night and was already gone when he was discovered.
"A part of me died on that March day, too," Becky Scheig told Norris. "There is a huge void in our family. He should be here. I dream about him at night and in my dreams he is healthy and happy. His shoes still sit by the back door where he left them that night. I always knew Andrew was at home if his shoes were there."
In his statement to the court, William Scheig described the pain he felt at a recent wedding, knowing he would never see his son get married.
The couple have turned some of their grief toward advocacy, raising money for mental illness and drug abuse prevention causes. They also produced a video with the Partnership for Change to warn against the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
Scheig's death comes amid a wave of heroin overdose fatalities in Minnesota. Thirty-five people in Hennepin and Ramsey counties died last year of heroin overdoses, according to state health records. Heroin and other opiates, including prescription drug abuse, killed 129 people in the two counties in 2012.
Alarmed at the rising tide of drug deaths, prosecutors have turned to third-degree murder charges as a means to punish drug dealers. In just the past week in the Twin Cities the law was used in three cases to punish dealers for drug deaths in Scandia, Rosemount and Minneapolis.