A Maplewood woman charged in the heroin overdose deaths of five men was found guilty Tuesday of third-degree murder in one of the first cases to go to trial.
Hennepin County District Judge Paul Scoggins ruled that Beverly Burrell, 31, provided the fatal dose of heroin to Luke Ronnei, 20, of Chanhassen.
“It’s a nice victory,” said Ronnei’s mother, Colleen Ronnei. “It’s one down and four to go. It’s not just about Luke, but it’s also about the other young men too.”
Besides Ronnei’s death, Burrell, known as “Ice” on the streets, also faces third-degree murder charges in the deaths of Max Tillitt, 21, of Eden Prairie; Nick Petrick, 29, of New Prague; Dustin Peltier, 31, of St. Cloud, and Spencer Johnson, who died of an overdose in a Columbia Heights sober home.
The judge, who also heard arguments last week in the Tillitt case, is expected to rule on that one after written closing arguments are filed July 3.
According to testimony in the Ronnei case, the Chanhassen man, who had struggled with heroin addiction for two years, returned home from Australia on Jan. 6, 2016, when a friend picked him up from home and arranged to meet Burrell, their “regular” heroin dealer.
The friend got into Burrell’s vehicle and bought four “$40 bags” of heroin with money from Ronnei. The friend used some of the heroin and gave the rest to Ronnei before dropping him off at home, where he remained in his room through the night.
Ronnei’s parents, suspecting he was under the influence, made plans to have their son undergo a drug test in the morning and take him to his doctor.
Before leaving to do some errands at 9:30 a.m., Ronnei’s mother could hear her son snoring. Two hours later, his parents found him unconscious in his room.
His death from a heroin overdose is “proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the judge said in his decision. The question was whether the fatal heroin could have come from someone other than Burrell because no one saw Ronnei administer the fatal dose.
Phone records and testimony from two of Ronnei’s friends indicated that in the months before his death, he bought heroin only from Burrell. On the day of the fatal dose, the judge said the tight timeline between when Ronnei received the drug and when he died made it “highly unlikely Ronnei obtained any other heroin.”
Colleen Ronnei hopes Burrell’s third-degree murder conviction will “make drug dealers think twice” and encourage law enforcement to investigate these type of cases more promptly.
“Maybe then we can avert more deaths,” Colleen Ronnei said. “This is a victory.”
Even so, she said, “We still don’t have Luke and we never will.”