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Murder charge dismissed in Carlton man's drug-related death

A murder charge brought after the overdose death of a Carlton man has been dismissed because of insufficient evidence.

Jason Karl Laubach, 28 of Wrenshall was charged with third-degree murder for allegedly causing the death of Joe Henry DeRusha on Sept. 1, 2009.

According to the criminal complaint, DeRusha's girlfriend told authorities that he had purchased narcotics from Laubach. St. Louis County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Uncini of Hibbing performed an autopsy and concluded that DeRusha died from an overdose of methadone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone.

According to medical records, DeRusha had been prescribed hydrocodone for a knee injury, but was never prescribed methadone in any form.

The girlfriend told a Carlton County Sheriff Office investigator that she had accompanied DeRusha to Laubach's house on Aug. 31, 2009. She said her boyfriend came out of the house and told her he had gotten methadone from Laubach.

Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said Wednesday that Uncini's written report initially indicated to him that there were lethal amounts of methadone and each of the other two drugs in the victim's system. With the girlfriend's testimony, Pertler believed he had sufficient evidence to bring the murder charge.

Pertler said Northeastern Minnesota Chief Public Defender Fred Friedman then raised issues challenging the evidence against Laubach. Pertler and Friedman then met with Uncini.

"(Uncini's) written report indicted that all three drugs in the system of the decedent were at lethal levels," which would merit the murder charge if it could be proven that Laubach supplied the methadone to DeRusha, Pertler said.

However, Pertler said, Uncini told him and Friedman that what he meant in his report was that all three drugs contributed to Laubach's death, but he couldn't testify that the methadone alone killed the victim.

"His explanation was that it was certainly a contributing factor, but each person's physiology is different and the way people metabolize drugs is different."

Pertler then sought the opinion of a toxicologist in Duluth, who consulted with other experts from around the country. Pertler said the toxicologist informed him that she had come to the same conclusion as Uncini: She couldn't say that methadone had killed the victim.

"The body had been cremated and it came to the point where there was nothing more that we could do," Pertler said.

On Tuesday, Pertler signed a formal dismissal of the murder complaint on the grounds of insufficient evidence and filed it in Carlton County District Court.

"The (victim's) family was called in and I explained to them what the medical experts had to say," Pertler said. "That was both difficult for them to hear and difficult for me to have to tell them."

DeRusha's mother, Lois Kirby, who had performed CPR on her son after the overdose, declined comment Wednesday.

Friedman said Laubach denies supplying methadone or any other drug to the victim.

"This is a tragedy and my heart goes out to the families, but the smart medical people say that the evidence just wasn't there," Friedman said. "That certainly doesn't make it any easier on the parents of the deceased."