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Johnson faces murder charge

NEW ULM — A 58-year-old rural Searles man already facing a felony criminal neglect charge in the death of his wife Jan. 24 was charged with 3rd-degree murder in an amended complaint filed in Brown County District Court Monday.

Duane A. Johnson, 18151 Sperl Ave. S., was charged Monday with giving his wife, Debra L. Johnson, 69, a controlled substance classified in Schedule 1 or II, according to court documents.

Debra Johnson died of methamphetamine toxicity, according to final autopsy results from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner, received by Brown County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jeremy Reed Feb. 20. From previous interviews, Duane Johnson admitted he procured methamphetamine and provided it to his wife.

Debra Johnson meets the definition of a vulnerable adult, according to Minnesota Statute 609.232, subd. 11(4). Duane Johnson meets the definition of a caregiver, according to Minnesota Statute 609.232, subd. 2.

In addition, Duane Johnson faces a felony receiving stolen property charge after telling police he had at least 47 guns at his residence, many of which were stolen, according to court documents. A search of his residence showed many guns, boxes of ammunition, prescription Hydralazine, an empty bottle of Benztropine with his wife’s name on it and unidentified pills.

Johnson remains in the Brown County Jail. His bond was set at $250,000 without conditions, $150,000 with conditions.

A pre-trial hearing was set for 9:45 a.m., Monday, April 1. A five-day jury trial was set for July 8-12.

According to the complaint, Brown County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Fairbairn learned of a deceased person at 18151 Sperl Ave., Searles, at 11:44 a.m. Jan. 24. Fairbairn and several officers from the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, New Ulm Police Dept. and the Brown Lincoln Renville Redwood (BLRR) Drug Task Force went to the location.

At the residence, Fairbairn noticed a front screen door of the residence with the worlds “Death Parde God Hell” written in red spray paint. Johnson, appearing to be naked, swung open the screen door and yelled “my wife is dead upstairs.”

Johnson said his wife was “shaking so violently” and he “couldn’t stand seeing her flop around anymore.”

When asked why did didn’t call an ambulance for his wife, Johnson said because the last time she was taken to New Ulm Medical Center, “them mother _uckers revived her,” and “them mother _uckers in New Ulm made my life _hit.”

Johnson said he had to take a bath with soap and bleach to get rid of the little white and black “things” coming from his skin. Fairbairn did not notice white or black excretions coming from Johnson’s skin.

After other officers arrived, the body of Debra L. Johnson was found at the top of a narrow stairway. Her body was wrapped tightly in a gray bed sheet from head to toe, fastened with what appeared to be a belt.

Johnson said the woman was his wife. When asked why he wrapped her in a bed sheet, he said “I prepared the dead like the Bible told me to do.” In addition, Johnson said he was following the ways of the Old Testament by “cleaning her, making her beautiful and wrapping her in linen.”

Officers checked the woman for vitals and did not detect a pulse and noticed some rigor mortis on her arms. Officers noted the woman felt warm to the touch.

Johnson said he promised to take care of Debra Johnson and she had been “flopping” around for two days and she could not eat or drink. He said he held her tight to keep her from hurting herself on the floor.

In addition, Johnson said his wife had been in a nursing home and that she begged him to get her out because she wanted to die at home. Johnson said his wife couldn’t sleep because she shook badly and that he couldn’t stand to see her suffer anymore and he promised her a party.

Johnson said his wife did not want him to call 911 as she didn’t want to be in pain anymore. He said he didn’t mind taking care of her but he couldn’t stand to see her suffer.

In addition, Johnson said he had a “death party” for his wife that began about five days before, because that’s what she requested.

Johnson said he didn’t assist his wife in her death, that he only wanted her to be comfortable. He said he was in less pain now that his wife died because God gave him mercy and relieved some of his pain.

In September 2018, contrary to medical advice, Johnson removed his wife from care at Meeker Manor Transitional Care, Litchfield, according to the complaint.

Johnson said he was trying to help his wife pass peacefully into death and that he fulfilled his promise to her that he would not let her die in a nursing home. In addition, Johnson said he had been using methamphetamine for several days and gave some to his wife about 2 1/2 days before.

During a search of the Johnson residence, many boxes of ammunition were found plus guns including a Henry Cal .22 Magnum rifle, Marlin 39A .22 rifle, a 54 caliber muzzle loader, a Harrington & Richardson 10 gauge shotgun, and a Springfield 67H 12 gauge.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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