JEFFERSON — A 21-year-old Oconomowoc woman was sentenced to prison Tuesday for providing the heroin that led to a June 2015 overdose death.
Through a plea agreement with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, Samantha A. Molkenthen pleaded no contest to first-degree reckless homicide by delivery of heroin, resulting in the June 14, 2015, death of Dale A. Bjorklund of the Town of Ixonia.
Molkenthen provided the drugs to Bjorklund, who reportedly had been self-medicating when he ran out of his prescription drug to address his post-traumatic stress disorder.
An autopsy concluded that Bjorklund died as a result of an “acute mixed intoxication of heroin and alprazolam (a generic name of Xanax).”
Text messages between Bjorklund and Molkenthen’s cellphones on June 13, 2015, showed a discussion relating to acquiring drugs, specifically heroin. Additional texts on Bjorklund’s phone indicated a conversation with someone about acquiring Xanax.
Bound over for trial in January, Molkenthen originally entered a not guilty plea to the charge.
A witness in the case and friend of Bjorklund, the late John Paul Groehler of Ixonia, died in April from a heroin overdose. His death remains an ongoing investigation by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
In addition, per her own statements, while in custody, Molkenthen became aware that she was pregnant. It is not clear whether these factors might have played a role in her decision to accept a plea deal.
She gave her daughter, born on June 18, up for adoption.
On Tuesday, based on the severity of the crime, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Randy Koschnick ordered a sentence of 15 years, including nine years in prison and six years on extended supervision.
He said he took into consideration Molkenthen’s age and lack of prior criminal record in setting the sentence.
“One of my objectives as a judge in Jefferson County is to make it as difficult as possible to buy heroin in Jefferson County,” he said. “I realize we can’t eliminate the problem by handing out prison terms. If it is harder to get heroin in Jefferson County as a result of the sentences handed down in Jefferson County, I think that is good for the community.”
As conditions of extended supervision, Koschnick ordered that Molkenthen is to undergo alcohol and other drug abuse assessment and treatment, may not possess alcohol or illegal drugs, may not have contact with the victim’s family unless the individual and Molkenthen’s agent agree, and must either maintain employment or be enrolled in some type of education program.
Per the agreement, Assistant Jefferson County District Attorney Jeff Shock recommended a total sentence of 15 years imprisonment, consisting of 10 years in prison and five years on extended supervision, which was in line with similar recent heroin-related reckless homicide cases.
Shock noted that Molkenthen herself overdosed on heroin in October 2014.
“She knew all too well how incredibly dangerous heroin could be and yet she still delivered the fatal dose to Dale anyway,” he said. Compounding the tragic nature of the case, Shock noted that months after Dale died, two other friends of the defendant — Groehler and another friend — died of heroin overdoses.
“This case demonstrates how dangerous heroin is to the user and how it damages and destroys the lives of so many,” Shock said. “It illustrates why we in the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office prosecute these cases as aggressively as we do. It illustrates why the court uses that powerful message of deterrence to the public at large. The message needs to be ‘heroin will kill you and if you participate in the cycle of death, you will go to prison.’”
Molkenthen’s attorney, Jonathan A. Lavoy, encouraged the court to take into account the various factors, including Molkenthen’s age, character and acceptance of responsibly.
He suggested a sentence of four to five years in prison.
“This is an absolute tragedy for all parties involved,” Lavoy said, noting that other individuals involved with the case have died from overdoses while the case has been pending.
“It is touching people in all communities in all walks of life,” he said. “I don’t think the solution to this problem is locking up a 21-year-old for 10 years.”
Lavoy stressed that Molkenthen should not be labeled as a drug dealer as she never profited from any transactions involving heroin.
“She clearly is an addict and a user and was in a friend group of similar-situated people,” he said.
The defense attorney said the circumstances in this case involved Bjorklund reaching out to friends, including Molkenthen, Groehler and others, in desperate fashion for help, specifically to get heroin.
Among the friends, each previously had obtained heroin for the others in the past, according to Lavoy.
“It is clear Samantha was not seeking out Dale to try and get him to use; she was responding to his request and, in her twisted way, she was trying to help him,” Lavoy said.
In addition, he noted that Molkenthen did not have a connection to the alleged drug dealer in Milwaukee from whom the heroin was obtained. He suggested that it was another friend, a 25-year-old man from Ixonia, who completed the transaction in Milwaukee and then distributed a share to Molkenthen, who then took it to Bjorklund.
That individual has not been charged with anything in connection with Bjorklund’s death; however, he currently is facing unrelated drug and theft charges in Waukesha County.
Molkenthen herself addressed the court, apologizing to Bjorklund’s family and her own.
“I never imagined that would happen to him,” she said of Bjorklund. “I never wanted that to happen to him. Dale was a good person. He was loved by everyone. He was a really good person and he didn’t deserve to die so young. I’m so sorry for all of this.”
She indicated that she has no desire to go back to doing what she was doing before.
“I’m also sorry to my family, who has been there for me,” Molkenthen said. “Thank you for being supportive and behind me. I know I can get through this and I know I can be someone better than I was before and contribute to society. I’m really sorry for all of this. I never wanted this to happen.”
Bjorklund’s mother, Lesa Treuden, also addressed the court, but directed her comments to her dead son.
“Dale, you are such an amazing son,” she said. “I remember the first time I cried in pain the day you were born. You were destined to be a fighter as you had a very rough start in life with two open heart surgeries at just seven days old.”
He apparently was referred to as a miracle baby at Children’s Hospital, having been given only a 50-percent chance to live.
“Growing up, you were smart, witty and compassionate,” Treuden said. “I knew at your funeral that you touched the lives of hundreds of people.”
She said they ran out of chairs at the funeral home with people standing in the rows and outside.
“You had a magical presence,” Treuden said.
She recalled driving Dale to work two weeks prior to his death and telling him how proud she was of his work ethic and determination.
“I remember thanking you for being the man of the house,” Treuden said.
For several weeks after he died, Treuden said she slept in Dale’s bed, wanting to fall asleep with the smell of her son still lingering on the pillows.
“I remember staring at the walls of your bedroom wondering what your last thoughts must of been as you were dying,” she said. “I know I need to go on f or the sake of your two sisters but there are days that I struggle just getting out of bed.”
Treuden still sleeps with the T-shirt Dale wore on the day before he died. She asked Koschnick to sentence Molkenthen to the maximum of 40 years, consisting of 25 years initial confinement and 15 years extended supervision.
“Nobody wins here today,” she concluded.
In terms of character, the judge credited Molkenthen for entering a plea to the charge.
“I’ve had other reckless homicide cases, too many, unfortunately, some of which go to trial, which can be an additional difficult ordeal for the surviving family members of the victims,” he said.
Koschnick also considered her age and her lack of prior criminal record as mitigating factors.
“Your remorse, to me, appears to be sincere and I believe you have made good use of your time in the jail,” the judge said.
Since being in custody, Molkenthen has competed the high school equivalency diploma program.
The judge also noted her negative character traits.
“The risks and dangers involved with heroin use and giving heroin to others are widely understood and easy to perceive,” he said. “I know you knew that you were flirting with death when you used it and when you gave it to others.”
Koschnick described it as a “distorted thinking pattern” for her to say that she was trying to help Bjorklund.
“You gave him something that you knew could kill him,” he said. “You’re the one that brought the heroin that resulted in Dale’s death into Jefferson County.”
He acknowledged that Molkenthen was not a large-scale dealer bringing in pounds of the drug from another country. Also, the judge acknowledged that there was no evidence that she profited from the delivery.
“You’re guilty of reckless homicide because you delivered heroin to another human being, he used it and he died. But in the range of heroin deliverers, you are at the lower end of the scale,” Koschnick said.
However, being on that lower end of that scale was counter-balanced by a behavior likely to create a risk of death.
“This isn’t like an accident,” he said, recognizing that Molkenthen did not intend to cause Bjorklund’s death. “It is a reckless homicide because you engaged in behavior that creates a high probability of death.”
The judge noted that the impact on Bjorklund and his family has been devastating, with his mother and sisters harmed for life. Per statements from Treuden, one of Bjorklund’s sisters reportedly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after finding his body.
“Your action of bringing that heroin into Jefferson County will have significant negative effects on Bjorklund’s family and others who knew him for years to come,” he said.
The judge acknowledged that general deterrence is something he considers and fashion in every sentence.
“In some cases, I think, there is a better likelihood of the sentence having a deterrent effect than others,” Koschnick said. “In heroin homicide cases like this, there is a great public awareness of the problem. In Jefferson County and in other surrounding areas, there is a great deal of media attention paid to this problem and that is as it should be because it is a serious societal problem that is destroying lives of people in ever increasing numbers.”
He said he feels that in a reckless homicide case, the deterrent effect of the sentence is entitled a greater weight than it might be in another type of a case.
“Deterrent effect of a sentence in this case should be something given significant weight,” the judge added. “Hopefully, people who are involved in giving heroin to others, at least in Jefferson County, learn that giving heroin to someone else carries with it the significant risk that the person will die and that the person who delivered the heroin will then be arrested and prosecuted and if convicted, punished.”
Koschnick noted that the deterrent effect relates to public safety, as well ,by deterring others from engaging in similar behavior.
Meanwhile, Molkenthen still is facing unrelated charges in Dodge and Waukesha counties.
In Dodge County, Molkenthen is charged with one misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia, and one charge each of felony and misdemeanor bailjumping. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 22.
A charge of felony possession of narcotic drugs and an unrelated misdemeanor retail theft are on the court docket in Waukesha County. A hearing on each of those charges is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 22. Tentatively, a trial is set for Tuesday, Nov. 29, for the drug-related charge.