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Duluth man sentenced in woman's overdose death; final defendant pleads guilty

A judge this week declined to send a 32-year-old man to prison, imposing a probationary term that includes treatment and community service.

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A Duluth man has been placed on probation for his role in supplying the opioids that killed a woman in 2019, while a final co-defendant has pleaded guilty to drug charges.

Seth Daniel Nelson, 32, was sentenced Monday to seven years of supervised probation, avoiding an 81-month prison term after pleading guilty in July to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

The conviction stems from the October 2019 death of 41-year-old Angela Dawn Owen in West Duluth.

Nelson's sentence is in line with that of co-defendant Jesse Wayne Merrill, who in September was placed on seven years of supervision. Merrill, 31, had a 132-month sentence stayed after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting third-degree murder.

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Seth Daniel Nelson

The final defendant, Artist Samuel Sanders, was set to stand trial next month on the same murder and manslaughter charges. But he accepted a plea agreement Friday, admitting to two felony counts of third-degree sale of a narcotic drug.

Under the terms of the agreement, Sanders, 31, is expected to receive five years of supervised probation when he appears for sentencing Jan. 3.

PREVIOUSLY: 2 plead guilty to homicide charges in Duluth woman's overdose death A third defendant has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to face a jury later this year in a 41-year-old woman's death from fentanyl and heroin toxicity.
Owen was found unconscious in her residence on the 1100 block of North Central Avenue on Oct. 22, 2019. The Midwest Medical Examiner's Office determined her death to be the result of the toxic effects of fentanyl and heroin.

According to a criminal complaint, children present at the scene told officers that a man named Jesse had been around three days prior. Through investigation, officers found Owen had several conversations with Merrill. The victim asked Merrill to obtain heroin for her, to which Merrill agreed, the complaint stated.

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Artist Samuel Sanders

Merrill reportedly told law enforcement that on the evening of Oct. 21, he was with Nelson, who provided Merrill with heroin. Merrill said he and Nelson then went to Owen's residence and Nelson sold heroin to the victim.

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Officers then took a statement from Nelson, who said Merrill provided Owen with the heroin he gave to Merrill earlier that evening, the complaint said. Nelson allegedly said he got the heroin from Sanders earlier that afternoon.

On Oct. 22, officers conducted a controlled purchase of heroin from Sanders that tested positive for fentanyl, which was the same mixture that caused the victim's death, authorities said.

Nelson testified at his July 12 plea hearing that he obtained the drug mixture from Sanders and then passed it on to Merrill, who ultimately gave it to Owen. But Merrill claimed at his own plea hearing that same day that Nelson was the one who provided the drugs to the victim.

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Jesse Wayne Merrill

As both were charged with aiding and abetting, it was only necessary for prosecutors to establish that both played a role in the supply chain that resulted in Owen's death.

Nelson's plea did not come with any agreement as to sentencing, but defense attorney John Lucas filed a motion asking the court to place his client on probation, instead of imposing a guideline prison term. Lucas argued that Nelson played a "passive role" and acknowledged that he has had relapses, but noted that his client has completed two inpatient treatment programs.

PREVIOUSLY: Duluth man sentenced in overdose death; warrant issued for co-defendant One defendant was placed on seven years of probation, but authorities say the other has failed to show for a number of probation meetings and tested positive for drugs since pleading guilty.
St. Louis County prosecutor Nichole Carter said Nelson should face a prison term, noting his original sentencing date was postponed and a warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to cooperate with a presentence investigation. A probation officer also reported he had tested positive for heroin and methamphetamine on several occasions between May and July.

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But Judge Dale Harris granted the departure from guidelines, giving Nelson an opportunity under probationary terms consistent with those of his co-defendants. In his departure report, the judge concluded Nelson "played (a) minor or passive role," has shown remorse and is particularly amenable to chemical dependence treatment.

The probationary terms include requirements that Nelson abstain from alcohol and drug use, undergo treatment and complete 500 hours of community service in an addiction-support setting. Sanders is expected to receive similar conditions.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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