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Johnson pleads guilty to criminal neglect

Sentencing Aug. 12 for Searles man in death of his wife

Duane A. Johnson

NEW ULM — A Searles man who brought his wife home from a nursing home and threw her a “death party” involving methamphetamine pleaded guilty Monday to a charge of criminal neglect that led to her death in Brown County District Court Monday.

In the plea agreement, charges of third-degree murder and receiving stolen property were dismissed in the case against Duane A. Johnson, 59, in the death of his wife, Debra L. Johnson, 69, at their rural Searles home last January. The toxicology report from her autopsy showed she died from methamphetamine intoxication.

A sentencing date has been set for 10:45 a.m., Aug. 12.

The plea agreement calls for a 36 month prison sentence for Johnson, a reduction from the presumptive sentence of 48 months. “Given (Johnson’s) lack of criminal history, the presumptive sentence for a criminal neglect conviction of 48 months in prison was reduced to 36 months after the parties agreed to jointly recommend a downward durational departure,” according to a press release from Brown County Attorney Charles W. Hanson. The reduction in sentence must be approved by the judge.

The plea offer was made after extensive discussion between Hanson, Assistant Brown County Attorney Dan Kalk, Brown County Sheriff’s Office investigating officers, New Ulm Police and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), according to the press release.

“We feel this outcome serves the interest of justice,” the release read.

“I think it’s a very fair resolution,” said public defender John Yost. “Johnson’s wife told many people she wanted to die at home. It was a difficult situation.”

According to the complaint, Duane Johnson admitted he procured methamphetamine and gave it to his wife, whom he had brought home from a nursing home in Litchfield. Mrs. Jonson met the definition of a vulnerable adult, and Duane Johnson was legally considered to be her caregiver.

According to the complaint Johnson said his wife had been in a Litchfield nursing home and begged him to get her out because she wanted to die at home.

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

Johnson told authorities he threw her a “death party” about five days before her death because that’s what she requested. Johnson provided methamphetamine for her.

Johnson said his wife didn’t want him to call 911 because she didn’t want to be in pain anymore. She had been “flopping around” for two days and couldn’t eat or drink before she died.

After her death, Johnson said he cleaned her body and wrapped her in a gray sheet, “like the Bible told me to do.” and called 911 to report the death on Jan. 24.

Brown County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Fairbairn and several other sheriff’s deputies, New Ulm Police and Brown Lincoln Renville Redwood (BLRR) Drug Task Force members went to the Johnson home after receiving the report.

At the home, deputies found Debra Johnson at the top of a narrow stairway, tightly wrapped in a gray bed sheet.

A search of the Johnson residence showed at least 47 guns, many of which were stolen, according to court documents. Other items found at the home were 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 on $250,000 bond without conditions, $150,000 with conditions.

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

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