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Woodbury teen pleads guilty to murder charge in Fitzgerald case

Washington County prosecutors said from the outset that they weren’t going to negotiate a deal  in the multi-tiered criminal case surrounding the synthetic drug overdose death of a Woodbury girl.

They proved Friday they’re not bluffing.

During a pre-trial hearing, 19-year-old Cole Alexander Matenaer pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree murder. The plea – known as a “straight plea” – was made without any offer of reduced charges or penalties from Washington County prosecutors.

Matenaer, of Woodbury, was one of five people charged with third-degree murder in the case, following the Jan. 11 death of 17-year-old Woodbury High School student Tara Fitzgerald. Prosecutors claim each of the five defendants had a hand in passing along the synthetic LSD that led to Fitzgerald’s death.

“This stuff is a scourge and we’ve got a young woman who died as a result,” said Fred Fink, criminal division chief for the Washington County Attorney’s Office, “and there’s no way that, with as good of a case we have – and we think we do – that we were going to budge an inch.”

Matenaer volunteered his reason for entering the plea at the hearing.

“I want to make amends for what I did,” he said, adding that he wanted to “take responsibility for my actions.”

According to a criminal complaint, Matenaer acquired the drugs from St. Cloud resident Alexander Lee Claussen and later sold them to WHS student Sydney Claire Johnson, who passed the drugs to others who eventually provided the fatal dose to Fitzgerald.

During the hearing, Matenaer admitted to the allegations, saying he was first introduced to Claussen in August 2013 and began involvement with him by purchasing marijuana. That led to LSD – or what Matenaer said he thought it was at the time before later learning it was a synthetic version of the drug.

“I was selling that, Mr. Ali,” he told Assistant Washington County Attorney Imran Ali during testimony.

Matenaer said he bought about 1,000 doses from Claussen and usually sold them for money. He identified Johnson as a customer, who Matenaer said bought from him about 10 times in Woodbury.

Doses of the drug, which he later came to know as 25i, usually sold for about $10 each, Matenaer said, adding that he bought doses from Claussen at prices between $5 and $10.

“You indirectly caused the death of Miss Fitzgerald,” Ali asked Matenaer during testimony.

“Yes,” he replied.

“You knew what you were doing was wrong?” Ali continued.

“Yes,” Matenaer said.

Matenaer will be sentenced at 1 p.m. Oct. 10 in Washington County District Court.

“No promises have been made,” Washington County District Court Judge Richard Ilkka said at Thursday’s hearing, reiterating terms of the straight-plea.

Fink said presumptive sentencing for a defendant with no criminal history on the third-degree murder charge calls for 86 months. Judges have latitude to deviate up to 103 months or down to 74 months under that scenario, though it’s possible Ilkka could elect for a different sentence entirely.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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