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Newport woman pleads guilty in methadone death

  • Article by: Kevin Giles
  • Star Tribune
  • August 18, 2014 - 4:21 PM

A Newport woman pleaded guilty Monday to third-degree murder for giving methadone, a powerful prescription drug, to her husband to help him sleep after a night of hard drinking.

Jennifer M. Johnson, 43, had greeted police officers in a panic at their home in the 1600 block of 10th Avenue early one morning in March 2013, yelling for them to hurry and help her husband.

Officers found 32-year-old Denis K. Parmuat in a bedroom, unresponsive and gasping for breath about every 30 seconds, the criminal complaint said. He was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul and arrived in full cardiac arrest. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

The plea, before District Judge Gary Schurrer in Washington County, came less than a month after Johnson had pleaded not guilty to the same charge.

Monday’s “straight plea” meant that Johnson pleaded to the original charge and received no concessions from the County Attorney’s office.

She will be sentenced on Dec. 17.

Johnson told investigators that Parmuat drank about a dozen beers after arriving home at 11 p.m. and had asked for some of her methadone to help him sleep, the complaint said. An autopsy showed Parmuat died from mixed drug toxicity related to the presence of methadone and ethanol in his body.

Johnson was the second person charged recently in Washington County with murder in connection with a fatal methadone overdose.

The first was Emily K. Frye, 22, of Oakdale, who pleaded guilty in November to third-degree murder in the death of Frank Eck, a National Guard veteran who was found dead of a methadone overdose the evening of Aug. 1, 2012, in his bedroom in Scandia. Frye was sentenced in February to seven years in prison.

Across the St. Croix River, a 61-year-old Prescott, Wis., man, Robert J. Whaley, pleaded guilty in February to manufacturing/delivering Schedule I and II narcotic drugs and narcotic drug possession after his wife died in July 2013 from an apparent overdoes of methadone. Emilie Whaley, 59, died at their home, and Robert Whaley admitted to police that he gave her the drug, according to a criminal complaint.

After Johnson was charged this winter, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said “drug overdose deaths have become a scourge upon our local communities.”

Law enforcement authorities have said they’re encountering increased trafficking of methadone, a narcotic chronic pain reliever also prescribed to treat withdrawal from heroin and morphine use.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037

 

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