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Chisholm man pleads guilty to overdose death

Bryce Gardner Duncan, 23, will serve prison time, but his charge was reduced from murder to manslaughter.

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VIRGINIA โ€” An Iron Range man has admitted to supplying drugs to another man who died of an overdose nearly two years ago.

Bryce Gardner Duncan, 23, of Chisholm, pleaded guilty last week in State District Court to an amended count of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Devin Michael Erickson, 19, of rural Aurora.

Bryce Gardner Duncan.jpg
Bryce Gardner Duncan

Duncan is expected to receive a guideline sentence of four years in prison when he appears again before Judge Robert Friday on April 24, per the terms of a plea agreement with the St. Louis County Attorney's Office.

The charge was amended from third-degree murder, which carries a presumptive term of approximately seven years for a first-time offender.

Erickson was found by a Babbitt police officer in a running pickup truck outside an auto store around 1:20 a.m. March 24, 2021. He had apparently been parked there several hours and was pronounced dead at the scene.

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A criminal complaint stated that officers recovered drugs and paraphernalia, including eight oxycodone pills that later tested positive for fentanyl, a small baggie containing methamphetamine, a butane torch and several lighters.

An autopsy later determined that Erickson died as a result of a combination of fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine and benzodiazepine โ€” a psychoactive drug sold under brand names such as Xanax.

Police said they learned that the victim had last been in contact with another person around 5-6 p.m., about eight hours before he was found dead. And, according to the complaint, a witness stated that he had been taking Xanax pills earlier that afternoon before indicating he was heading to Babbitt to purchase more pills.

A search of Erickson's phone reportedly showed him communicating with Duncan on Snapchat in the days before his death, with the victim asking March 23: "How much for 20 (of) them and how much for 30?" Duncan allegedly replied with the address of the Babbitt Public Library.

Duncan, when reached by investigators over the phone, acknowledged meeting Erickson at the library, but said he did so to work on the speakers of the victim's truck, the complaint states. He denied exchanging any drugs or money.

However, authorities said bank records showed that Erickson had transferred $240 to a "Bryce Dun" before his death. The transaction was posted March 24.

Police noted that Duncan was also present at the scene of a nonfatal overdose June 20, 2021, when a 20-year-old woman was reported to be unresponsive at a Babbitt residence. After initially denying knowledge of what the suspect had taken, Duncan admitted it was "possibly Xanax" and "probably laced with fentanyl," the complaint states.

Duncan, prior to reaching the plea agreement, challenged probable cause and planned to face a jury trial this month. Defense attorney Jaclyn Corradi Simon had argued that there was "no actual evidence that Duncan sold pills to Erickson," that those pills caused his death or that the money transfer was even related to controlled substances.

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But Judge Friday last summer upheld the charge, saying the combination of the text messages, financial transaction and Erickson's cause of death were sufficient to establish probable cause and that it was up to a jury to determine the "relative credibility or weight of conflicting evidence."

The amended manslaughter charge required Duncan to acknowledge he caused Erickson's death by "culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another."

Records indicate Duncan is currently at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center.

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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