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Prtine found guilty in stabbing murder

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region Park Rapids, 56470

Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

A St. Louis County jury deliberated about

5½ hours Wednesday before finding a Hibbing man guilty of first-degree murder for stabbing his cocaine dealer to death

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in 2007.

Andy Prtine, 33, was indicted in September on charges of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree murder while committing a separate felony in the Nov. 8, 2007, slaying of Brent Ward,

45, in the victim's Hibbing apartment.

Jurors found Prtine guilty of intentional first-degree murder while committing aggravated robbery or a felony involving the unlawful sale of a controlled substance. While he was found not guilty of premeditated murder, both crimes are punished by mandatory life prison sentences.

Judge David Ackerson immediately sentenced Prtine to a mandatory life prison sentence. Prtine, the married father of a

12-year-old daughter and

5-year-old son, has to serve at least 30 years in prison before receiving any parole consideration.

St. Louis County prosecutor Jeff Vlatkovich had suggested to jurors that Prtine was angry and desperate after getting an eviction notice the day of the slaying, that he was behind on his utility payments and that Ward had provided less cocaine than Prtine had asked for. Vlatkovich argued that Prtine went to Ward's apartment to rob him.

Defense attorney Jon Rice argued that his client killed Ward in self-defense during a struggle when he was able to grab the knife away from Ward. Prtine testified Tuesday that "it was me or him.''

Bolstering the prosecution's theory that it was a robbery, however, Prtine's DNA was found in the victim's pants pocket.

Prtine testified that he was under the influence of drugs the night of the stabbing. He had smoked cocaine with the victim and he said he had taken OxyContin, a morphine-like narcotic intended to relieve chronic pain, that day. He introduced evidence that he was intoxicated at the time of the slaying. That in itself is not a defense to a crime, but jurors could have considered whether that affected Prtine's intent to kill Ward.

Ward's body was found in his apartment the next night by a cousin, who called 911. The victim was dead when officers arrived.

Police were led to Prtine after a Hibbing resident found a cellular phone case, a brown leather knife sheath with the initials "A.P." and a dollar bill with blood on it inside a Dumpster in an alley in Hibbing.

Police interviewed Prtine and he first denied having anything to do with Ward's death. He later provided another statement to police with his attorney present and admitted to killing Ward, but said it was in self defense.

Officers used a magnet to retrieve the murder weapon from a sewer pipe in the basement of Prtine's residence.

Neither attorney would comment on the verdict Wednesday evening. St. Louis County Attorney Melanie Ford said Vlatkovich wasn't authorized to comment, and Rice said he wasn't yet prepared to comment.

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