Johnson sentenced to three years in prison in ‘death party’ case

NEW ULM — A Searles man who took his terminally ill wife from a Litchfield nursing home and threw her a “death party” involving methamphetamine last January was sentenced to three years at the St. Cloud Correctional Facility in Brown County District Court Monday.

Duane A. Johnson, 59, was convicted of felony criminal neglect. Felony charges of third-degree murder and receiving stolen property were dismissed as part of a June 24 plea agreement. Johnson was credited with 201 days served, fined $160 and ordered to pay restitution, to be held open for 90 days, before paying fines, fees and surcharges.

A toxicology report from the autopsy of Debra L. Johnson, 69, showed she died of methamphetamine intoxication.

“The agreement the parties reached in this case and the sentence imposed is appropriate,” said Brown County Assistant Attorney Dan Kalk. “The circumstances and loss of life are incredibly tragic. The facts of this case were unique to say the least. While I think that deep down, Mr. Johnson was doing what he felt the victim wanted and did not act with malice. However, as the victim’s caregiver, he deprived the victim of adequate healthcare while he was in a position to otherwise provide such care. That deprivation, along with supplying methamphetamine, resulted in her death. And for that, he must be held accountable.”

Brown County Public Defender John Yost said the typical sentence for such a conviction is 48 months in prison, but the prosecution and the court felt the case was appropriate for a lesser sentence.

“It was less onerous of a crime than a typical 48-month sentence,” Yost said. “I had a lot of moral questions about this and how involved the State becomes when a person wants to die privately. On one hand, you want to avoid people taking advantage of you. On the other hand, you have a person’s privacy and wanting to die with loved ones at home.”

Yost said he thought the resolution was fair and he doesn’t think Mr. Johnson will be breaking any laws in the future.

According to court documents, Johnson admitted he procured methamphetamine and gave it to his wife who met the definition of a vulnerable adult. Duane Johnson was legally considered to be her caregiver.

Johnson said his wife begged him to get her out of the nursing home 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, according to court documents.

Johnson told authorities he threw his wife a “death party” about five days before her death because that’s what she asked him to do, that she didn’t want him to call 911 because she didn’t want to be in pain anymore.

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


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