Judge finds Maplewood woman guilty of third-degree murder for selling drugs that led to overdose

- Judge Paul Scoggin filed his guilty verdict in the death of Lucas Ronnei late Tuesday.

Wednesday morning Ronnei’s parents Colleen and David received the phone call. Beverly Burrell, 31, the Maplewood woman who’d been selling heroin to their son in the months leading up to his death is now convicted of third-degree murder.

“We knew about her before Luke, and actually Luke came to us when Max Tillett died and asked us to go to police so we did,” Colleen said. “I went to police in Eden Prairie and gave them all the information and they didn’t even investigate it."

Her attempt to tip police off about Burrell was four months before she and David found their 20-year-old son had died of a heroin overdose in his bedroom. The toxicology results declared the manner of Ronnei’s death accidental, caused by heroin toxicity.

Luke struggled with heroin addiction for about two years, half of which he spent in treatment. Colleen and David went to great lengths to help in his struggle, providing opportunities for treatment and trying to closely monitor Luke’s behavior.

Luke’s battle was lost on Jan. 7, 2016. The day before David had just picked Luke up from the airport. He was fresh off a flight from Australia where he spent three weeks camping with friends. Once home, he announced he wanted to visit his “buds” and that he would return home in about 45 minutes. Upon his return, Colleen and David were suspicious.

A friend picked Luke up, contacted Burrell, and drove to a restaurant parking lot in Minneapolis. Luke’s friend got into Burrell’s car and purchased four $40 bags of heroin using money Luke supplied while Luke waited in his friend’s car. 

The friend--an accomplice--received favorable treatment in exchange for his cooperation with police. The substantial corroboration of his trial testimony was found in David and Colleen’s testimony, the video tape from the parking lot and the additional 27.7 grams of heroin found in Burrell’s home. Phone records memorializing communication between Luke and Burrell found the testimony credible.

When Luke returned home they recognized he was under the influence so they made plans to drug-test him in the morning and contact his doctor.

The morning of Jan. 7 Colleen left her home at about 9:30 a.m. to run errands. She had heard Luke asleep and snoring before leaving.

David was home that morning as well. When Colleen returned at about 11:30 a.m., she and David decided to go to his bedroom. They found him unconscious and unresponsive.

Burrell was arrested last May.

“I went back to Eden Prairie police and slid him a picture of Luke and said, 'I want to know why you didn't do your job,' and he said 'your son made a choice, Max Tillet made a choice,'" Colleen said.

Yet, Judge Scoggen’s choice sends a resounding message in the first of her four murder trials.

“I’m grateful that she can’t hurt anyone else and she can’t steal anymore smiles,” Colleen said.

Luke was snatched just 30 days shy of his 21st birthday, two days before he returned for his junior year at Arizona State University.

“We’re heartbroken and yet hopeful for the future,” David said.

While the Ronneis still grapple with losing Luke, they’re confident in two things: the power of their voices and the power of the verdict.

“It’s nice to see that maybe there’s a shift in attitudes and the criminals are the people who are dealing drugs, not the people who are dealing with drug use,” Colleen said.

There are still three more murder cases being handled by the Hennepin County Attorney’s office against Burrell. Mike Freeman is refraining from comment until those cases are concluded.

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