Jeffery Jon Schumacher Sr., 58, of Goodview, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and second-degree controlled substance crime, providing methadone to a minor, last Thursday. Early this spring, Schumacher was indicted by a grand jury for third-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, and third-degree sale of a controlled substance after his 34-year-old son, Jeffery Schumacher Jr., died from overdosing on methadone pills given to him by Schumacher Sr. on May 8, 2012. He was also indicted on three charges for giving a methadone pill to a male juvenile shortly after Schumacher Jr.'s death.
In a plea deal dropping the murder charge and three other charges, Schumacher Sr. pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and second-degree providing methadone to a minor. Assistant Winona County Attorney Justin Wesley, who led the prosecution, said the plea deal was appropriate given Schumacher's remorse, and agreed to seek a sentence of 58 months in prison followed by parole. Schumacher Sr. will be sentenced early this fall.
Methadone is a synthetic opiate and a potent prescription drug used for relieving extreme pain and weaning heroin addicts from of their opiate dependency. Schumacher Sr. has a valid prescription for methadone for chronic pain. Schumacher Jr. had a prescription for methadone at one time, but had not been on it for months prior to his death.
Schumacher Sr. gave his son two methadone pills on May 8, 2012, in order to ease his son's back pain, he said. "He was having a great deal of back pain. He was begging his dad for two methadone pills to get him through the back pain, so we could get him to the hospital," Schumacher Sr. told Judge Jeffrey Thompson, who presided over the case. "We should have called the ambulance; none of this would have happened."
Schumacher Sr. gave his son the two pills and the two, along with two young relatives, apparently went to bed at a residence in Goodview. When they woke up, the young relatives saw that Schumacher Jr. appeared to have died during the night. A coroner's report later confirmed that Schumacher Jr. died due to mixed toxicity from methadone and the anti-depressant Venalafaxine. Methadone overdoses can cause death by slowing breathing.
One of the young relatives, a 17-year-old boy, slept in the same room as Schumacher Jr. and woke up to find him discolored and contorted, according to Schumacher Sr.'s testimony. The boy became hysterical, Schumacher Sr. said. Schumacher Sr. said he then gave the 17-year-old boy a methadone pill "to calm him down." Schumacher Sr. plead guilty to providing methadone to a minor for that action.
Schumacher Sr. told Judge Jeffrey Thompson that he thought that because his son had been on methadone in the past, it would be safe for him to take the pills. "I was hoping it was going to relax his back. I didn't think it was going to kill him because he had been on it for so long," he said.
Schumacher Sr. also stated that he believed that his son was still on methadone at the time. In an interview with the Winona Post following the hearing, Wesley said that there was evidence that Schumacher Sr. did know his son was no longer taking methadone, but in any case, Schumacher Sr. knew how dangerous it was to give methadone pills to his son.
"Methadone is on a whole other level from other narcotic pain pills," Wesley said. Everyone reacts differently to the potentially deadly drug, which is why methadone users are kept in a medical facility, under supervision, while doctors determine safe levels for dosing, Wesley explained. Schumacher Sr. testified that he takes two methadone pills three times a day. One dose of that amount proved fatal to his son.
Wesley reminded Schumacher Sr. of how his safety was carefully monitored while doctors tested his methadone prescription. When Schumacher Jr. did have a prescription, it was a liquid form of methadone, not pills, according to testimony.
When questioned by his attorney, Sam Jandt, Schumacher Sr. said he knew the risk involved in his choice to give Schumacher Jr. two methadone pills.
"You understand that [giving someone methadone pills] is an extremely dangerous situation?" Wesley asked Schumacher Sr.
"I made a terrible mistake," the father replied, crying. "The worst mistake you can make."
Wesley explained to the Winona Post that he felt the plea deal was appropriate because of Schumacher Sr.'s remorse, the fact that the family agrees with the deal, and the fact that Schumacher Sr. is not a drug dealer who caused someone's death through his own profiteering. "He has shown a great deal of remorse throughout the hearings and interviews," Wesley said. "It's an incredibly tragic situation all the way around, and he is being held accountable for his actions," Wesley said, pointing out that 58 months in prison (four years and 10 months) is not a short time.
"I don't think it would have done Mr. Schumacher any good to go to prison for the period of time for a third-degree murder charge. It wouldn't have done the family any good; it wouldn't have done the community any good," Wesley added.