A Thief River Falls man pled guilty Thursday, May 12 in Pennington County District Court to supplying fentanyl that eventually led to the 2021 overdose death of a St. Hilaire woman.

James Michael Morin, 24, entered a Norgaard plea to a felony charge of third-degree murder. While making the Norgaard plea, Morin testified that he couldn’t recall some or all of the facts of the case since he was under the influence of a chemical at the time.

Sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 3. Morin entered an open plea, meaning that he entered the plea without an agreement regarding punishment. As a result, sentencing will be left to the court’s discretion after both attorneys have made their arguments.

As part of the plea agreement, related felony charges of controlled substance crime and fifth-degree possession of a Schedule 1, 2, 3 or 4 drug will be dismissed at sentencing. Two unrelated 2021 misdemeanor cases – involving disorderly conduct and driving after revocation – will also be dismissed at that time.

In the murder case, Morin is accused of supplying fentanyl to Anthony Joseph Drury, who then gave some of the pills to his fiancée, Michaela Rose Constance Cooper. Cooper, 20, ingested some of the pills and was later found slumped over at their St. Hilaire home. Drury, 30, later told authorities that he had Narcan, but he didn’t how to administer it. After law enforcement and EMTs arrived, CPR and two doses of Narcan were administered. The efforts to save her life were unsuccessful, and she was pronounced dead.

Drury has also been charged in connection with the case. He has been charged with felony offenses of third-degree murder – sell/give/distribute a Schedules 1 & 2 controlled substance, and fourth-degree sale of a controlled substance of a Schedule 1, 2 or 3 drug. A jury trial has been set for Dec. 21-23 in his case.

Morin’s case
During his plea hearing, Morin testified that he recalled ingesting fentanyl pills Dec. 2, 2021, but he doesn’t recall anything else that occurred that day. He admitted that the state would present evidence that he met Drury at Holiday, where he sold pills to Drury. Morin also testified that he had no reason to dispute the cause of Cooper’s death or the chain of evidence.

During Thursday’s plea hearing, Morin’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Laurel Lawson, requested a furlough in order for Morin to complete drug treatment. She said a treatment bed was available and Morin’s first chemical use assessment was completed when he was 14. She said Morin is motivated to become sober since he was incarcerated during the birth of his first child and Morin grew up with a father addicted to controlled substances.

Lawson added that Drury was released from custody on his own promise to appear in court. His release, according to Lawson, occurred after it was determined that his bail was unconstitutional. A similar bail amount had been ordered in Morin’s case. She said Morin would attend treatment and, if he violated the terms of his release, he could receive consecutive sentences.

Pennington County Attorney Seamus Duffy countered that the presumptive prison sentence is between 94 and 132 months for the third-degree murder charge. He added that Lawson could make the same argument for treatment at Morin’s sentencing hearing.

Judge Tamara Yon then ruled, referring to a distinguishing factor between Morin’s and Drury’s cases. She indicated that the pills were in Drury’s home whereas the pills were in the community in Morin’s case. Yon said she was willing to entertain arguments regarding treatment during the sentencing hearing.

Charges
Drury allegedly said he had obtained the drugs from Morin, whose home was later searched. Inside Morin’s home and on his person, law enforcement found 39 pills similar to the fentanyl-laced pills the couple possessed. Morin allegedly admitted meeting with Drury earlier that day and Drury repaid him some money owed for a drug debt. In his initial statement, Morin denied selling pills to Drury. Days later, in a followup statement, he allegedly admitted selling pills to Drury. Both men admitted knowing the pills were laced with fentanyl.

Back at the couple’s St. Hilaire home, law enforcement recovered half of a blue pill known to be laced with fentanyl as well as four oxycodone pills. They also confiscated tin foil with burn marks and a pen with its contents removed. Both of those items are consistent with drug usage.

Drury had recently proposed to Cooper. He said the couple had been sober for 10 days, but they relapsed that day. He said their drug of choice is usually opiates.

In a statement to Pine to Prairie Drug Task Force officers the following week, Drury allegedly said he purchases pills from Morin one to two times per week. He said he purchased two pills from Morin for $120 on Dec. 1. Neither he nor Cooper became sick after snorting the pills.

The following day, Drury purchased an additional five pills for $250 from Morin outside of Holiday. Of that amount, he and a friend contributed $100 each. Cooper contributed $60. The remaining $10 was gas money. At some point after the drug sale, he picked up Cooper. Two pills were dropped off for the friend, and Drury kept the remaining three pills. Upon returning home, the couple smoked a pill by heating it up on tinfoil.

Drury initially told law enforcement that he had purchased four pills from Morin for $200. He said Morin loaned him part of the money needed for the pills. At that time, Drury said he and Cooper used three pills with Cooper apparently consuming the fourth pill after Drury had fallen asleep. Half a pill had been found at the home.

During his latest statement, Drury described the pills, which seemed to be similar to the ones found in Morin’s possession. When they arranged the purchase, Drury said he didn’t know what Morin would be providing.

Shortly after Cooper’s death, Drury provided law enforcement with Morin’s cell phone number. Verizon assisted in locating his cell phone, which was present at his home, 107 Maple Ave. N. A Pine to Prairie Drug Task Force officer, two deputies, three police officers and a Minnesota State Patrol trooper executed a search warrant at the home during the early morning hours of Friday, Dec. 3. Besides the pills and a meth pipe, law enforcement allegedly found a plastic pen with its contents removed and $954 in cash. The latter two items were found on Morin.

Morin allegedly told law enforcement that he uses fentanyl and he and his girlfriend argue about his drug use. He admitted possessing the pills and selling them. Morin said his girlfriend doesn’t know about the drug sales, which are conducted elsewhere.

In his initial statement, Morin allegedly admitted meeting Drury at Holiday after Drury called him, asking for pills. Morin said he didn’t remember much, but he said Drury paid him $250 in cash since the man owes him $1,600. He said the two of them haven’t gotten along for about a month since the man owes him money. Morin denied selling Drury the pills; however, he said he planned to give Drury pills after Drury provided him with an additional $250 the next day. He said he usually charges $50 per pill.

At that time, Morin allegedly said Drury probably got the pills from another Thief River Falls man, who possesses all of the pills sold in town. That supplier is, in turn, obtaining the pills from a second Thief River Falls man. Morin indicated he obtained his pills through that supply channel.

Drury told the PTPDTF officers that he has never purchased drugs from the man suggested by Morin.

After Drury’s second statement, the officers took a follow-up statement from Morin. Morin allegedly said he received $360 from Drury on Dec. 2. Of that amount, $250 was to be applied to Drury’s debt. The remaining money was for two pills. During that statement, Morin said Drury was supposed to give him additional money the following day. He said both men knew the pills were laced with fentanyl since they were referred to as “dirty.” Morin said Drury had referred to them as “dirty.”