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A Madison woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reckless homicide charge for supplying the fentanyl-mixed heroin that caused the death of a friend last year and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Michelle L. Koch, 39, emotionally told Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky and the family of David Burns that she was “truly sorry” for Burns’ death on June 10, 2018. In a statement read by her lawyer, she said she and Burns shared a common bond in grief, both having recently lost parents.

“I think of him often and the pain I caused him and his loved ones,” she wrote in a statement read by Murali Jasti.

Koch was initially charged in August with delivery of heroin. The charge was amended in December to first-degree reckless homicide and listed fentanyl, a powerful painkiller that is now sometimes mixed with heroin, as the drug that caused Burns’ death.

Under a plea agreement, Koch pleaded guilty to the homicide charge Tuesday, and Assistant District Attorney Valerian Powell and Jasti agreed to recommend a sentence of three years in prison followed by three years of extended supervision.

Loading the needle

Powell told Karofsky that last year, Burns asked Koch to get him heroin, which she did, then loaded a needle for him at her Post Road apartment. She injected Burns first, Powell said, then herself. Burns, who was 58, became unconscious, Powell said, and Koch attempted CPR but she also passed out. When she regained consciousness 20 to 30 minutes later and called 911, it was too late, Powell said.

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Powell said investigators have a good idea who sold the drug to Koch, but not enough evidence to charge that person. Koch, fearing retribution, won’t provide more information, he said.

Jasti said Koch wasn’t aware that the heroin contained fentanyl when she bought it. A heroin addict, he said, she has tried to get clean in the past, using thousands of dollars she inherited from her mother to go to rehab in 2016.

Second thoughts

Karofsky initially questioned the proposed sentence, but imposed it because it was jointly recommended and was in line with what other drug co-users convicted of reckless homicide have received.

Burns’ brother, Gerald Burns, was clear that he found it too lenient.

“I don’t agree with the sentence,” he told Karofsky. “It seemed like Michelle got a plea deal without giving away any information. If she could give up some information, I could agree with that.”

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