For 30 minutes Wednesday morning, Christopher Schiebel's family sat in an empty Hennepin County courtroom. The relatives wiped their eyes and steeled their nerves. His mother and her daughter had stayed up all night, hand writing and rehearsing what they would say to the woman who admitted responsibility for his death.
They never got the chance.
On the day Shelbi Svare was to be sentenced to up to four years in prison for supplying Schiebel with a pain patch that he chewed to get high before his death, she never showed up. No one, including her attorney, knew where the 51-year-old Burnsville woman was or why she missed the 9 a.m. hearing.
"I'm not sure what the problem is, I know she has had transportation issues," attorney Michael Holland said after District Judge Gina Brandt started the hearing after the half-hour wait. "I'm sure I'll hear from her soon."
Responded Brandt: "Most likely you'll hear from her in custody. It's completely unacceptable. This I find outrageous."
Brandt issued a warrant for Svare's arrest. She was booked into the Hennepin County jail a half-hour later, where she was held without bail. Officials could not be reached to learn what had happened.
Her sentencing has not yet been rescheduled. When it is, Schiebel's family will be there.
"It's disappointing. We were hoping this would give us some closure," said Schiebel's mother, Robin Schiebel of Stillwater.
She was flanked by her husband, David, and daughter, Skye Balsimo, of River Falls, Wis. The women, red-eyed, clutched victim impact statements handwritten on notebook paper. Balsimo held a framed photograph of her brother to her chest. They'd been up all night writing the statements, Balsimo said, but likely wouldn't have slept anyway.
"We just wanted some justice for Chris." she said.
Svare pleaded guilty in May to second-degree manslaughter in connection with the February 2009 death of Schiebel, 28, of Bloomington. She was charged in July of that year with third-degree murder for allegedly trading Schiebel half of a doctor-prescribed fentanyl pain patch for marijuana.
Schiebel chewed the patch and later passed out in his girlfriend's lap. He never woke up. The Hennepin County medical examiner listed his cause of death as fentanyl toxicity. According to his obituary, he had long struggled with depression and drug addiction.
Svare was arrested after charges were filed but was free on bail before sentencing.
In exchange for her plea last month, the third-degree murder charge was dropped. She was expected to serve four years in prison.
Fentanyl, a powerful and fast-acting opium-based medication, is used often by hospitals for anesthesia. It is considered 80 times stronger than morphine and highly addictive. In February, a nurse anesthetist at a Minneapolis hospital was charged with a felony for allegedly taking the drug from a patient who was in the middle of a kidney-stone procedure in November. Her case has not yet been resolved.
Before ending the hearing, Brandt apologized to Schiebel's family, noting it had "already suffered enough without having to go through this as well."
The disappointment stems not only from her grief, Robin Schiebel said, but also a hope that something, anything, good could have come of her son's death.
"We were also hoping this would have given her an opportunity to change her life," Robin Schiebel said. "This shows that's not the case."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921