Woman pleads guilty in Minnesota heroin overdose death
A 23-year-old woman has pleaded guilty to a third-degree murder charge in the November 2014 overdose death of a Hermantown woman.
Kayla Jo Vranish, who has no known address, entered the plea Friday in State District Court in Duluth, according to court records.
Authorities said Vranish provided a fatal dose of heroin laced with fentanyl — a highly potent painkiller that is used to treat extreme pain — to 62-year-old Kathy Ann Davis.
Davis was found dead in her Johnson Road home by her husband on Nov. 30, 2014, according to a criminal complaint. A medical examiner ruled her death an accidental overdose of heroin.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Dale Harris scheduled sentencing for Aug. 1.
A plea petition filed with the court indicates that the St. Louis County Attorney's Office will seek a minimum guideline sentence, while defense attorneys are free to argue for a probationary sentence.
Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, a defendant with no criminal history faces approximately 11 to 15 years in prison for a third-degree murder conviction. A probationary sentence would require the judge to depart from guidelines.
According to court documents:
Andrew Davis reported to police that he found his wife purple and unresponsive. A needle and rubber tourniquet were found in her hand. Paramedics arrived on scene and pronounced her dead.
The husband also told police that he had last seen his wife at approximately 4 p.m. before she went out with friends that night. He said he was aware of his wife's heroin addiction and was trying to get her to stop.
Investigators did a forensic examination of Davis' cellphone, finding text messages with Vranish beginning two days earlier when the victim initiated the conversation by asking, "Do you have anything."
Vranish allegedly replied: "I'm about to be around someone who does. How much you need." The conversation continued the next day, with Davis indicating that she had $70 to purchase "2 points"—slang for two-tenths of a gram.
Shortly after midnight on Nov. 29, Vranish replied with: "OK I'm weighing it up right now for you. It will be ready in five minutes." The women made arrangements to meet, according to the messages.
Detectives later spoke with Davis' son, who reported that Vranish sent him a Facebook message on Dec. 2 confirming that she had sold the dose of heroin to Davis hours before she was found dead.
Toxicology reports confirmed the presence of heroin and fentanyl in Davis' system. Both drugs were also detected in a small glass vial found at the scene.
Vranish is one of numerous Northland residents to face third-degree murder charges in drug overdose deaths in recent years, as authorities have sought to crack down on the illegal drug trade.
In March, 29-year-old Bryan Joseph Hodapp was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison in the Iron Range overdose death of his girlfriend, 21-year-old Krystal Wicklund, in August 2013.
Last December, 52-year-old Robert Todd Ferguson of Cloquet was sentenced to seven years in prison for providing a fatal dose of fentanyl to Paul Duane Mrosla, 25, in January 2014.
Both defendants unsuccessfully sought to have their charges dismissed and were convicted by a jury. Court records indicate that Ferguson has filed an appeal, and an attorney for Hodapp previously said he would do the same.