Updated: 7:30 p.m. | Posted: 5 a.m.
A Sherburne County judge sentenced a Maplewood woman to an additional 8 years in prison for supplying fentanyl to a man who overdosed.
During the hour-long sentencing Thursday, the father of Dustin Peltier called Beverly Nicole Burrell 'a monster.' Burrell is already serving 14 years in prison on separate opioid-related cases and faces two more trials on unrelated cases in Hennepin County.
District Judge Walter Kaminsky told Burrell: "You made the mess of your own life."
Burrell, 32, was convicted in April of third-degree murder and a third-degree drug crime for selling fentanyl to Peltier, a former Marine who died of an overdose in 2016.
Charging drug dealers for providing lethal doses of illegal drugs, as in Burrell's case, has become more common among state prosecutors in recent years, experts said.
Minnesota is one of 20 states that have drug-induced homicide laws allowing prosecutors to charge someone who delivers or provides a drug to a victim of an overdose death.
The hard stance on overdoses is necessary, prosecutors say, to address the opioid epidemic sweeping that nation, leaving some county morgues filled with bodies.
A previous MPR News report found that 23 offenders were sentenced for third-degree murder between 2001 and 2014 in Minnesota and about a third of them received probation.
The Hennepin County Attorney's office said in its annual report that the number of such charges in overdose deaths in the county jumped to 12 cases in 2017 from only two in 2007.
The county saw 162 overdose deaths last year. Statewide, the count increased by 30 percent between 2014 and 2016, according to CDC data.
"They're very difficult cases to prove," said David Brown, Hennepin County chief deputy attorney. "But we can't have them dealing drugs that are killing people."
Hennepin County has filed two overdose-related murder charges to date this year, Brown said.
Pete Orput, Washington County attorney, said he has been aggressive in charging drug dealers as a means to stem overdose deaths.
"If they knew that every time they sell an opioid or even meth, for that matter, to somebody and that person dies, I'm going to be tearing the world apart looking for the guy that sold it," Orput said. "If that got out there and was known by everyone and publicized, I think it might have some deterrent with some people."
Prosecutors across the nation are also increasingly filing charges in such cases. Drug Policy, a nonprofit group that supports the decriminalization of drug use, found that there were 1,178 news articles nationwide in 2016 about individuals charged with, or prosecuted for, drug-induced homicide.
That was an increase of more than three times from 363 articles in 2011.
In Pennsylvania, for example, the Sentinel reported cases of drug delivery related to overdose deaths have increased more than 1,200 percent since 2013. The state's prosecutors charged 261 people in 2017 with dealing drugs that resulted in death.
"The focus has now broadened to also examine overdose deaths as prosecutable homicides against those who sold and distributed the drugs causing the overdose," says Mark Neil, program counsel at the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute in its 2018 journal.
Not all cases are the same, Orput said. "If you're jointly using it to get high, that's a whole different thing," he said. "Somebody else selling that poison killing people, they're the ones I want."
What's next for Burrell
And that's exactly what prosecutors said Burrell did.
It's the third time she has been sentenced for providing drugs that ended in death. In the Sherburne County case she provided Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.
She issued a statement to the court at her last sentencing hearing:
She faced a maximum sentence of up to 25 years.
She remains jailed at the state prison for women in Shakopee and faces two separate murder cases in Hennepin County in the April 2016 deaths of two other men.
Spencer Johnson, who was living in a Columbia Heights sober house, died of an overdose. Nick Petrick of New Prague was found dead in a Costco parking lot. He also died of an overdose.
Both trials are set for August in Hennepin County.