Cloquet man charged with murder in drug sale overdose death

CARLTON - A 25-year-old Carlton man died of an overdose in his parents' driveway after ingesting a prescription fentanyl patch that was sold to him by a friend's father, according to murder charges filed in Carlton County.

CARLTON - A 25-year-old Carlton man died of an overdose in his parents’ driveway after ingesting a prescription fentanyl patch that was sold to him by a friend’s father, according to murder charges filed in Carlton County.

Robert Todd Ferguson, 51, sold a patch of the highly potent painkiller to two of his daughter’s friends at his Cloquet home Jan. 15, according to the charges. The two young men ingested the drug, which is intended to be administered through a time-release patch, and left the home in a car.

Within minutes, Paul Duane Mrosla began experiencing signs of an overdose. He slipped in and out of consciousness. His friends took him to his parents’ home in Carlton, and his mother called 911.

By the time emergency personnel arrived, it was too late. Mrosla, a Lake Superior College graduate and the father of a young child, died in the backseat of the car.

“This is a worst-case scenario,” Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said. “When you have someone selling drugs, and the person that buys it uses it and dies, that’s as bad as it gets.”


Ferguson faces one count of third-degree murder, a seldom-used charge that carries a maximum of 25 years in prison. Pertler said he could not recall his office ever bringing a similar charge in a drug-related death.

Under Minnesota law, a person is guilty of third-degree murder if he or she, “without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”

Ferguson had a valid prescription for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid analgesic that is used to treat chronic pain, according to the criminal complaint. The drug is a Schedule II controlled substance.

The two men purchased the fentanyl patch from Ferguson and shared it, according to the complaint. A short time later, they left in a car, and Mrosla began exhibiting signs of an overdose. They arrived at Mrosla’s parents’ home, and paramedics arrived. Attempts to revive him through chest compressions and a defibrillator were unsuccessful, and he was declared dead.

An autopsy conducted by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death to be “severe bilateral pulmonary edema and alveolar hemorrhage as a result of fentanyl toxicity” - a fentanyl overdose.

After a several-month investigation by the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, Cloquet Police Department and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a warrant was issued for Ferguson’s arrest Thursday. He was taken into custody in Cloquet without incident.

His family declined to comment on the situation while Ferguson’s criminal case is pending.

Third-degree murder charges are rarely brought in Minnesota, but have been levied recently in an effort to crack down on drug dealers. In May, Washington County prosecutors charged five teenagers with third-degree murder in the synthetic drug overdose death of a Woodbury High School classmate.


Pertler said the facts of the case were a perfect fit for the third-degree murder. He hopes there can be a deterrent value in bringing murder charges against people who provide deadly drugs to others.

“We certainly can’t have things like this going on in our communities,” he said. “I would certainly hope that anyone that’s out there thinking about this type of behavior would think more wisely and not do it.”

Judge Robert Macaulay set Ferguson’s bail at $20,000 during a hearing Friday. His next appearance is set for Sept. 15


By Tom Olsen, Forum News Service

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