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Bagley, Minn., man faces murder charge in fatal morphine overdose at party

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BAGLEY, Minn. -- Investigators say Travis Kim Boe, 21, crashed on a couch after partying into the early morning of Dec. 24, 2008.

The party's host came across Boe about 9 a.m.: He was still lying on the couch but was unresponsive. He looked dead.

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Authorities were called to the house in North LaPrairie Township, and Boe was taken to the Clearwater County Memorial Hospital, where his death was made official.

An autopsy showed that an overdose of morphine and alcohol killed him. The level of morphine in his body was "in the range that has been known to cause death," according to a medical examiner. He had an alcohol level of 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit to drive.

These findings, finalized months after Boe's death, led County Attorney Jeanine Brand to recently bring a third-degree murder charge against the man investigators say gave Boe morphine that night.

That man, Brian Wayne Crabtree, maintains his innocence, his attorney Blair Nelson said Thursday.

"He fully is going to be entering a not guilty plea the first opportunity," Nelson said.

The charge was filed last month against Crabtree, 23, of Bagley. He's being held on a $100,000 bond at the county jail. He has a court hearing set for Nov. 16.

The gathering

Roughly half a dozen people in their early 20s attended the party that was held at a house owned by the host's mother, who wasn't home, Brand said.

According to a criminal complaint:

The host reported that Crabtree gave morphine pills to other partygoers. Several guests told investigators they saw Crabtree crush the pills in a bathroom.

One guest told officers he saw three lines of crushed morphine on the bathroom counter. That guest said everyone at the party snorted some of the morphine, including Boe.

The host told officers Crabtree told the partiers he had about 300 more morphine pills available to him. Officers subsequently searched Crabtree's parents' home, where Crabtree was living, and found hundreds of morphine pills on the coffee table in the living room. Officers seized samples of the pills that were prescribed to Crabtree's father who, Brand said, has a condition that calls for morphine.

Officers also searched the house where the gathering was held, and they found white powder near the bathroom sink that tests showed contained morphine.

Brand said several partygoers, including Crabtree, were on probation and were consequently tested for drugs after the party. Crabtree's test from that afternoon came back negative for morphine, she said. Crabtree is on probation for burglary, theft and disorderly conduct convictions in Clearwater County, according to court records.

Rx abuse

Brand said prescription-drug abuse is on the rise in her county. She said she sees cases of drug-seekers altering prescriptions to get more pills, students bringing drugs to school and people with ailments selling their medications. Popular drugs include the pain relievers OxyContin, Vicodin and morphine.

"Those are being distributed left and right," Brand said. "And, of course, nobody wants to take them as prescribed. They want to snort them or inject them or something like that."

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, use of morphine, along with other narcotics, has risen substantially in recent years. Since 1990, the number of morphine products in the U.S. has increased roughly threefold, the DEA reports.

A list of potential witnesses in Crabtree's case includes his father, the host's mother, party attendants, toxicology experts, medical examiners, and investigators from the sheriff's office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Crabtree's attorney said his office is independently investigating the case as it receives information from the state, but he declined to comment further.

If convicted, Crabtree faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and a $40,000 fine.

Asked why Crabtree was charged with murder when Boe was an adult who presumably knew the dangers of hard drugs, Brand said Crabtree's crime was disregarding Boe's welfare when he gave him the drugs.

She referred to the complaint against Crabtree, which says he caused the Boe's death "by, directly or indirectly, selling, giving away, bartering, delivering, exchanging, distributing or administering morphine."

Boe, of Bagley, was convicted of selling methamphetamine in Polk County in 2007. In 2006, he was convicted of driving while intoxicated in Beltrami County and another time in Mahnomen County.

Brand said Boe had a long history of chemical dependency.

"I hate to see anybody losing that battle."

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