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Overdose death leads to murder charge against central Minn. man

Richard Michael Carl Houske

WILLMAR, Minn. — A Willmar man faces a third-degree murder charge for allegedly selling the fentanyl that led to the overdose death of John Schlegel of Blomkest at age 24 on Nov. 4.

Richard Michael Carl Houske, 29, was arraigned on the charge Thursday, March 15, in Kandiyohi County District Court in Willmar. The charge carries a potential sentence of 25 years in prison.

District Judge David Mennis ordered bail set at $750,000 for release without conditions, or $200,000 for release with conditions.

Prosecutor Aaron Welch with the Kandiyohi County Attorney's office asked that bail be set at $1 million, telling the judge that Houske represents "an incredibly significant safety concern going forward.''

The prosecutor said that Houske is a longtime drug dealer and that, while in the Kandiyohi County Jail since his arrest about two months ago, he continued to direct the collection of debts for drugs he had sold.

Welch also cited the lengthy prison sentence Houske faces, and said that it makes him a flight risk.

Houske denied directing the collection of drug sale debts from the jail in a statement to the judge at the proceeding.

The criminal complaint alleges that Kandiyohi County sheriff's officers were dispatched to a residence in the county on Nov. 4 in response to the death of an individual identified by the initials JRS.

The Midwest Medical Examiner's Office subsequently determined that the death was caused by fentanyl toxicity.

It's not clear from the documents why Schlegel is not named in the criminal complaint, and Kandiyohi County Attorney Shane Baker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shortly after John Schlegel's death, his family went public with the story of his opioid addiction in the hope that it would help others. Schlegel, a U.S. Army veteran, was injured during a club hockey game while serving in Alaska and became addicted to pain medications. According to family members, he turned to street drugs after no longer being able to afford his prescriptions.

Eleven days after Schlegel's death, investigators recovered a folded magazine paper "bindle'' in Schlegel's wallet that contained 0.2 grams of powdered fentanyl.

CEE-VI Drug and Gang Task Force members executed a search at the Willmar residence where Houske lives and seized powdered fentanyl and cut up magazines, along with other drugs and drug paraphernalia, according to the complaint. Houske allegedly told investigators that Schlegel came to his house Nov. 3 seeking to purchase fentanyl, but denied selling any to him that morning. He said there was another person in the residence, whom he declined to identify.

Houske said he had a text message from Schlegel that would prove he did not sell the fentanyl, but the complaint stated that he never produced the text and gave investigators a password he knew was incorrect to access his phone.

The complaint alleges that Houske also told investigators that it was "very possible'' he had sold the bindle found in the Schlegel's wallet. Houske stated that he "usually purchased between 0.25 - 0.5 g of fentanyl each time he bought from Houske.''

The complaint also charges that two other individuals overdosed after ingesting fentanyl allegeldy purchased from the defendant. The overdoses occurred after Schlegel's death.

One person, identified as Buyer A, was treated in a hospital emergency room on Dec. 12 for a non-lethal overdose.

Another individual, identified as Buyer B, suffered an overdose on Dec. 1. His girlfriend called Houske, who came to the location and treated the overdose victim with Narcan, according to the complaint. Narcan is the brand name for naloxone, a drug which reverses the effects of opioids.

The complaint also states that a third individual told investigators that Houske sold fentanyl to him and Schlegel, and "would give it to them in a folded up paper bindle from a magazine.''

Houske's arraignment on the murder charge immediately followed his sentencing separately on two third-degree controlled substance convictions. The court stayed jail sentences other than for 58 days already served and ordered him to serve 10 years of supervised probation on the gross misdemeanor convictions.

Judge Mennis rejected Houske's request for a public defender in the murder case, and accused him of lying for not disclosing his assets on a form he filed making the request. Houske claimed no income and listed no assets on the form, according to the judge.

The judge noted that Houske had received and cashed out a $750,000 settlement from an automobile accident years ago. He used the proceeds to purchase a home for $113,000 in Willmar, and he currently collects rental income from it. He also purchased and owns equipment for a landscaping and snow removal business he owns.

Houske asked the judge to be released to enter a residential chemical dependency treatment program, stating that a bed has been waiting for him. "I want to get to treatment so I can get help,'' he said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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