Jury finds Mangun guilty by ‘proximate cause’
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
A Morrison County District Court jury found Keon Mangun guilty on the sole count of murder in the third degree (heroin) Wednesday evening, Oct. 30.
Mangun, 30, of Minneapolis sold heroin to Little Falls residents Brandon Bedford and Christian Dahn in North Minneapolis Feb. 27, 2012. The prosecution maintained that on that evening and the next day, Bedford provided that heroin to 19-year-old Miranda Gosiak of Little Falls. Gosiak died of an overdose on the afternoon of Feb. 28, in Little Falls, in a house owned by Tanya Ashby.
Mangun’s trial began Monday morning before Judge Conrad Freeberg with jury selection. By late afternoon, Assistant Morrison County Attorney Todd Kosovich and defense attorney Landon Ascheman delivered their opening statements.
Mangun, also known by the nickname “Bird,” was represented by both Ascheman of Ascheman and Smith and by Michael Kemp of MET Law Group, St. Paul law firms.
The first two witnesses, Little Falls police officer Dave Stevenson and Sgt. Charles Strack gave their testimony Monday.
Stevenson provided photos and descriptions of the crime scene. Ashby and Dahn shared the master bedroom on the first floor of the house. Bedford rented two rooms upstairs. Gosiak died in Bedford’s bedroom upstairs.
Strack was the first law enforcement officer on the scene, thinking at first that it was probably a prescription overdose death. After finding the heroin, he froze the scene.
Because Ashby was a former corrections officer and sergeant at the County Jail, Strack also called the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for support, to avoid any possible conflict of interest.
The first person to testify Tuesday was Ramsey County medical examiner Dr. Kelly Mills, who verified that Gosiak died of heroin toxicity. Although several other drugs were found in her system, the levels of the drugs and where they were found, indicated that they were not the cause of her death.
“What is in the urine tells us what was ingested from a few days up to a week prior to someone’s death,” Mills said. “What is in the blood tells us what was actively working at the time of death.”
Heroin itself does not actually show up in toxicology tests, Mills explained. “It’s the breakdowns of heroin that show up, particularly 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM), a marker unique to heroin.”
The next witness called was Bedford, Ashby and Dahn’s former next-door neighbor Kory Pingeon. Pingeon had told Dahn about a friend known as “Bird” who was in Minneapolis. Pingeon maintained that he never knew Bird’s real name.
Pingeon appeared extremely nervous and admitted to not wanting to be in the courtroom. He hemmed and hawed before answering questions and asked the prosecutor questions back, finally prompting Freeberg to remind him, “You are being asked questions — you are not asking them.”
Following the judge’s instruction, Pingeon admitted that Bird was in the courtroom.
The next witness was Gosiak’s sister, Lisa Houdek. She described Gosiak as “full of life” and “a joy to be around.”
After Gosiak’s and Houdek’s mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, the family discovered that Gosiak was taking her mother’s medication.
“At first she denied it,” Houdek said. “But we noticed more meds missing. Then she admitted to all of us that she had taken them and that she was using heroin and that she needed help.”
Houdek knew that Gosiak had obtained heroin in an alley in Little Falls.
Gosiak went to inpatient treatment in Waverly beginning Dec. 31, 2011. She completed the program and was released Feb. 1, 2012.
“She was her old self,” Houdek said.
Gosiak was living with her father. Houdek stated that she stopped for a visit there Feb. 27, 2012. Gosiak received a phone call about 8 p.m.
“Dad and I begged her not to go, but they kept calling,” Houdek said. “She told us she was going to Tanya Ashby’s house to get clothes and tell them she was done with that part of her life.”
BCA agent Jeremy Leese, the next witness, described interviews he helped conduct the day of Gosiak’s death.
“The name Bird came up during the interview with Ashby,” he said. “We also talked to Kory Pingeon. Dahn told Sgt. Strack that Pingeon had introduced him (Dahn) to Bird.”
Leese and BCA agents Eric Jaeche and Brian Marquardt spoke with other law enforcement agencies in the state and found the name associated with Bird was Keon Mangun. Mangun’s phone number was obtained from Dahn and Pingeon.
“We learned from law enforcement contacts and interviews with various witnesses, where we could find Mangun,” Leese said.
In searching phone records, Leese accessed a text message that Gosiak had sent to Ashby just before 1 p.m., Feb. 27, saying that she had relapsed (following her drug treatment program.)
Gosiak’s friend Waylon Beto testified that when she visited him the evening of Feb. 27, she looked “messed up” — her eyes were barely open and she couldn’t concentrate.
“She called me and asked to use (drugs) with me,” he said. “I refused to, since I was coming off pills myself and just wanted to stay away from them.”
The trial resumed Wednesday with the testimony of Ashby and Dahn, who were each given immunity for their testimony. Although they pleaded guilty to their activities on that day and will be held responsible, if anything new came out of their testimony, they would not be charged based on that new information.
Dahn’s murder three charge was dismissed by Judge Douglas P. Anderson in March. He pleaded guilty to charges of controlled substance in the third degree and burglary in the first degree stemming from an April 30 incident in Little Falls. Dahn will be sentenced to 365 days in jail instead of 48 months in prison due to his agreement to testify truthfully in the Mangun trial. The 48-month prison sentence will be hanging over his head during 20 years of probation.
Ashby’s murder three charge was dismissed by Freeberg in June. She pleaded guilty to controlled substance crimes in the fourth and fifth degrees as well as gross misdemeanor disorderly house. Ashby also pleaded guilty to an additional controlled substance crime in the fifth degree from a separate incident, May 21. She will be sentenced to a 57-day time-already-served sentence and will have further jail time and possible prison time stayed for 15 years while she is on probation.
Bedford disappeared prior to his Sept. 9, 2012 jury trial, and a warrant for his arrest remains in place.
Ashby described having worked in the Morrison County Sheriff’s office from 1999 until 2010, when she was diagnosed with a brain lesion.
Ashby and Dahn owned a tree-trimming business in February 2012. Bedford was their employee. They all drove down to Richfield Feb. 27, 2012, to solicit work. They all went to North Minneapolis around midday to pick up some heroin from a man named Bird. Ashby stayed in the vehicle while Bedford and Dahn made the purchase.
They returned to Little Falls after working a few more hours. Ashby and Dahn used heroin that evening at home. When Gosiak came to the house to visit Bedford, they sat in the living room with Ashby and Bedford prepared three lines of heroin.
Ashby told Gosiak, “I cannot watch you do this.”
Gosiak’s response, Ashby said, was “Don’t be mad at me.” Ashby went to her room
Both Ashby and Dahn saw Gosiak briefly the next morning before leaving to run errands. When they returned home, Ashby went upstairs to retrieve the debit card she had lent to Bedford the night before.
“They (Bedford and Gosiak) looked like they had just woken up,” Ashby said.
Ashby went downstairs, seeing Bedford there a while later. When she found out that Bedford’s mother was coming to meet Gosiak, she encouraged Bedford to go wake Gosiak up so she could get dressed and fix her hair and makeup.
Bedford went upstairs and Ashby then heard him holler for help. Dahn ran upstairs first, then called for Ashby. She rolled Gosiak over and saw that she was gray.
“She was not breathing, so I began CPR while Christian called 911,” Ashby said. “I did CPR until the police arrived and took over.”
Dahn testified next, describing Gosiak on the evening of Feb. 27 as “the first time I’d seen her truly happy. She did treatment on her own (not ordered by the court) and I told her we were proud of her.”
Dahn corroborated Ashby’s testimony of the events of Feb. 27. He said he was not feeling well that night after getting home and went to bed early.
His recitation of events on the morning of Feb. 28 corroborated Ashby’s.
Morrison County Sheriff’s Deputy Doug Rekstad described the detailed way that he — someone not otherwise involved in the investigation — was called upon by Leese to administer a photo lineup to Pingeon. He said Pingeon identified the photo of Bird two times, being 75 to 80 percent certain.
The state rested its case.
Following Wednesday’s noon recess, the defense made a motion for acquittal, arguing that intervening events between Mangun’s sale of the heroin and Gosiak’s overdose negated his responsibility — constituting a lack of “proximate cause.”
Proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held to be the cause of that injury.
Kosovich asserted that just the opposite was true, that the “mere fact that drugs are dangerous means that death is foreseeable.” Mangun didn’t even need to be present if the end result was foreseeable.
Freeberg denied the motion. “My belief is that the legislative intent (when this law was written) was to track back the sales, following the chain of delivery. It is foreseeable that the drugs would be distributed further.”
No defense witnesses were called. Kosovich gave his closing statement first, recapping the events of Feb. 27 and 28, 2012, for the jury.
In the defense’s closing statement, Ascheman opinted out that there were too many questions remaining, “too many things we simply do not know.”
Ascheman asserted that the prosecution had not presented evidence that answered those questions. “We don’t know if Mr. Bedford had heroin from other sources. We don’t know when Ms. Gosiak consumed the heroin on the 28th. We don’t know where she got the heroin (possibly coming to Ashby’s with heroin on her.) Nobody saw her take heroin that morning. Nobody gave her any heroin. There were times when nobody was with her that morning.”
The jury was dismissed to deliberate shortly after 4 p.m.
A group of 15-20 of Gosiak’s friends and family members followed the trial, accompanied by Hands of Hope staff members.
Mangun was supported by his significant other and family members.
A verdict was returned at 7:13 p.m.
Kosovich asked that Mangun be taken into custody immediately because of the seriousness of the crime.
Ascheman asked that the defendant be given 48 hours to get his affairs in order.
“He has several children, including a newborn, who he would like to say goodbye to,” said Ascheman.
Freeberg denied the request.
“This is a major victory in the war on heroin,” Kosovich said. “In this case, we went after the heroin dealer himself.”
“I hope this case sends a message,” said County Attorney Brian Middendorf. “Heroin users and dealers in Morrison County now know that this office will go after them for murder when there is an overdose. In addition, I wish to thank our partners in law enforcement for their many hours of investigation that made this conviction possible.”
“This is a precedent-setter,” said Strack. “It has unbelievable importance throughout the state in rural communities.”
Sentencing has been set for Nov. 27, at 11 a.m. Minnesota Sentencing guidelines call for a 134-month prison sentence.