Max Tillitt sat on the floor of an Eden Prairie hotel room on Sept. 25, 2015, as his fiancée and their 2-month-old baby were close by. He put a small amount of heroin on a bent spoon, cooked it, then shot up. Immediately, his fiancée knew something was wrong.
“He started to go crazy, for lack of better words,” Holly Schulz testified Wednesday.
When a cop got to the room, Tillitt was dead. Six months later, four more addicts would die, each of whom prosecutors in Hennepin and Sherburne counties say bought their drugs from Beverly “Ice” Burrell.
Burrell, 31, of Maplewood, is charged with five counts of third-degree murder for allegedly selling the heroin that led to the fatal overdoses. She stood trial this week in the deaths of Tillitt and Lucas Ronnei, who died on Jan. 7, 2016. A bench trial before Hennepin District Judge Paul Scoggin finished Wednesday for both deaths after friends and family testified about the devastation caused by heroin, and how easily it could be bought from Burrell.
Burrell’s attorney, Craig Cascarano, who is handling both defenses, didn’t challenge whether his client sold heroin. Instead, his questioning focused on whether the drugs Burrell sold led to the deaths. Cascarano did not call any witnesses, and Burrell did not testify.
Burrell’s clients said she was so reliable they didn’t need to buy from anyone else. Any time they needed a heroin fix, “Ice” was quickly accessible, nearly always had the product, and could meet them — even with her two young children in the back seat of her PT Cruiser.
“I was pretty good friends with her,” said Samuel Doud, who was also a friend of Tillitt. Also a witness, Doud guessed that he bought heroin from Burrell hundreds of times.
On Sept. 25, Doud and Tillitt went to pick up Schulz and the 2-month-old baby from the airport, then went to a restaurant parking lot in south Minneapolis, where Tillitt showed Burrell his baby, then gave her $160 in exchange for four baggies of heroin.
The three went to an Eden Prairie hotel room, and after Doud left, Tillitt shot up.
“Pretty instantly,” Schulz said, her fiancé started throwing furniture around the room. He started to vomit. She laid him on his side so he wouldn’t choke. She called 911.
About 30 seconds later Eden Prairie police officer Corey Sinon got to the room and saw Schulz clutching the infant. Sinon checked Tillitt’s pulse, and found nothing.
After learning about Tillitt’s death, Doud called Ronnei, another friend and customer of Burrell’s. Ronnei was trying to stay sober while studying at Arizona State University. He called his mother, Colleen Ronnei, and told her she had to go to police and tell them about Burrell.
Colleen testified that last summer she saw Burrell sell drugs to her son, and confronted her. Yet despite going to police, Burrell kept selling.
When Ronnei was home in January 2016, another friend, William Cole, testified that they went to buy drugs from Burrell. After Ronnei got home, he took the heroin and died from an overdose.
Doud testified that after Tillitt and Ronnei died, he told Burrell about the deaths. Doud said she told him “it must have been someone else’s.”
Scoggin is expected to issue a verdict in Ronnei’s case by May 24. A verdict in Tillitt’s case won’t be issued until after July 3.
During his questioning, Burrell’s attorney worked to show that other drugs in the victims’ systems could have caused their deaths. When they died, both Ronnei and Tillitt were also on Vivitrol, a shot that blocks the effects of opioids.
Trial dates for Burrell’s other alleged victims have not yet been scheduled. Those victims include Dustin Peltier, who died on April 2, 2016; Spencer Johnson, who was found dead the next day, and Nick Petrick, who was found dead on April 15 in a Costco parking lot, holding a lighter and hollowed-out pen.
When she was arrested the next month, police searched Burrell’s home and found more than $115,000 in cash and 27 grams of heroin.