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Minnesota man who served time for overdose death dies shortly after release


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ST. PAUL—Cathy LaMere started the countdown as soon as her son was convicted.
Sentenced to 10 years for providing the drug his friend died using, she knew he'd get out in about six with good behavior.
Last February, Timothy LaMere was released from prison on Valentine's Day into a halfway house. In September, he was finally back on his own.
"I had all kinds of plans," Cathy LaMere recalled of what she'd hoped to do with her newly reunited family.
"Trips, going to the State Fair ... just doing everything we didn't get to do for the last six and a half years. ... I looked forward to every aspect of his life."
Cathy LaMere is again enduring life's big events without her only son. This time, there is no countdown.
LaMere died suddenly last month of cardiac arrest attributed to natural causes, according to the Ramsey County medical examiner's office. He was 28.
LaMere was thrust into the public eye in 2011 when he bought a bottle of the synthetic drug 2C-E — often described as a mix of ecstasy and LSD — online and took it to a Blaine house party on March 17, 2011. LaMere and 10 others, including 19-year-old Trevor Robinson, took it. Most of them snorted lines of the white powder.
All of the partiers overdosed that night and wound up in hospitals. Robinson, a good friend of LaMere's, died.
Robinson was attending Anoka Ramsey Community College and working part time at Aveda Corp. when he died. He was also a father. Hundreds turned out for his funeral, where he was remembered not only as someone who liked raising the eyebrows of adults and making people laugh, but also as a fiercely loyal friend and family member.
The Anoka County attorney's office filed third-degree murder charges against LaMere for providing the drug. He pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
'Punch to the face'
The case shone a spotlight on the dangers of what appeared to be a rising tide of designer drug use. It intensified local lawmakers' efforts to make it more difficult for them to be sold and to make prosecuting cases involving their distribution easier.
Nearly identical to the controlled drugs they were made to emulate, their manufacturers — many of them located overseas — tweak molecules in the synthetic versions just enough to try to skirt drug laws. At the time, the substances were commonly sold at head shops, truck stops and other outlets.
LaMere's case also seemed to mark a shift in how some prosecutors approached fatal drug overdoses.
In the five years before his conviction, 10 defendants were sentenced statewide on third-degree murder charges related to the distribution of drugs that led to fatal overdoses, according to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. In the five years after, 29 were sentenced.
"LaMere was sort of that punch to the face in terms of how we needed to be (approaching) these kinds of cases," said Paul Young, chief of the Anoka County attorney's office's criminal division and the prosecutor who tried the case against LaMere.
'He was a political pawn'
Cathy LaMere says her son was unfairly targeted by authorities for buying what he thought was a legal substance online.
"He was a political pawn, everybody knows that," she said. "Everybody who came in contact with him couldn't believe what happened to him."
Young disagrees.
"He wasn't a fall guy for an ill-advised international drug trade," he said. "He knowingly purchased something that was illegal, that was dangerous, and distributed it at a party, and it had significant consequences, not just for the victim who died but for everyone who got sick."
Brad Zunker, Timothy LaMere's defense attorney at the time, did not respond to requests for comment.
'He could have been very bitter'
LaMere was interviewed by the St. Paul Pioneer Press two years into his prison term at the state correctional facility in Lino Lakes. He kept a photograph of Robinson on his cell wall.
LaMere spoke of the regret he felt over what happened to one of his best friends and how the pain he'd caused Robinson's family, particularly his mother, never left him.
Robinson's mom, Jill Robinson, has never blamed LaMere for what happened and urged prosecutors to send him to treatment, not prison.
"I wish I could go back," LaMere said during the 2013 interview. "A lot of people say that about a bad experience, but I mean even if I had more time to do ... I wish I could go back and give her her son back, you know. I wish that every day."
He also spoke of the gratitude he felt for the way prison had forced an end to his drug use and reawakened some of his old interests.
He started working out and lost 60 pounds in addition to spending hours each week teaching basic literacy to adults. He also prayed regularly and began visiting schools with other inmates to talk to students about the dangers of drug use, according to his mom.
"With everything that happened to him, he could have been very bitter," Cathy LaMere said. "But instead, he rose up and made such a difference in every life he had seen in prison, and every life out."
'I know he is OK'
One of the first things Timothy LaMere did upon his release was get a tattoo to honor Robinson, according to Jill Robinson, who stayed connected to LaMere through the years. It showed Robinson's birth and death dates along with a fist over his heart.
He and Jill Robinson had been talking about trying to find ways to spread the word about the dangers of drugs when she heard he'd died.
"I just talked to him the day he died," she said. "He was such a good kid. ... I've always forgiven him from the moment it all happened. He loved Trevor."
LaMere died the day after Easter, his mom said. He and his sister had gone to a casino that night. After dropping her off at the end of the night, he went to a friend's house. At some point, he started complaining of shortness of breath.
His friend got up to get him some water. When she got back, he wasn't breathing.
"I know he is OK. He had great faith. I know he's up in heaven," Cathy LaMere said. "We will never be OK, though ... he was my inspiration."
Designer drugs still a problem
The landscape has changed for designer drugs in the wake of LaMere's case, experts say.
Legislation has been passed making it illegal to use or sell designer drugs such as the 2C-E that killed Robinson, and every year more substances are added to the state's list of controlled substances, according to Cody Wiberg, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy.
It's also much less common to hear about a head shop or a truck stop selling the substances since the 2013 conviction of the owner of the Duluth head shop Last Place on Earth for refusing to stop peddling designer drugs. Jim Carlson was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
"I think that probably had a powerful deterrent effect on other (retailers)," Wiberg said.
Yet, the use of designer drugs in Minnesota has held relatively steady, said Carol Falkowski, a former drug-abuse strategy officer with the Minnesota Department of Human Services who tracks drug-abuse trends.
Overdoses' lasting impacts
A.J. Carver was 16 when she snorted a line of the 2C-E alongside LaMere, Robinson and seven others that night.
The trip took her into her "own personal hell," she said. The traumatizing images she saw still sometimes reappear to her in nightmares.
The experience taught her "not to play with fire," she said.
"It shook me into reality that I am not invincible and that the things I do to myself matter and that drugs are something we just shouldn't play with," she said.
Carver was so shaken by what happened that she's since cut ties with the others who were at the party that night, she said.
She follows their lives on social media, though, and says all of them seem to be doing well; some are in college, others raising children. At least one is sober.
Carver is a junior at Anoka Ramsey Community College pursuing a business degree.
She's not happy about the way things ended up for LaMere, though.
"I just think we were all made an example of, and I don't think Trevor would have wanted anyone to get in trouble for something we all chose to do," she said. "It's just really sad. Now Timmy's gone, right after he had a fresh start."
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