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Minnesota man pleads guilty in wife's 'death party' meth-bender demise

Deputies arrived to be greeted by a naked Duane Johnson and the inscription “Death Parde God Hell” painted on the door.

Deputies arrived to be greeted by a naked Duane Johnson and the inscription “Death Parde God Hell” painted on the door. Brown County Sheriff's Office

As his police mugshot might suggest, Duane Arden Johnson is not a man of convention.

Last January, he faced a dilemma. His wife, 69-year-old Debra Lynn Johnson, had been taken to a New Ulm nursing home the previous fall, suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and the aftermath of two heart attacks. As Duane tells it, she begged him to help her end it all.

Against the advice of the New Ulm Medical Center, he brought her back to their Searles, Minnesota home, where she hoped to party until her departure to the great beyond.

They spent the next five days wolfing meth and blasting Quiet Riot. But Debra stopped taking her medicine and was fading fast. By day four, she couldn't eat or drink, and was thrown into convulsions. Duane used melting snow to provide at least modest hydration.

In the early morning of January 24, Debra asked her husband for sex, Duane would later tell police. She stopped trembling, he says, and appeared to be at peace. Debra died shortly thereafter.

Duane waited a few hours before contacting the cops. His wife wished not to suffer anymore, he claims. He wanted to make sure she was truly dead.

Brown County deputies arrived to find “Death Parde God Hell” painted on the Johnsons front door. Duane answered the knock naked, telling officers that his wife was upstairs. They found her wrapped in bedsheets, fastened with a belt. Her husband said he'd “prepared the dead like the Bible told me to do.”

Still, he seemed well aware of the weirdness police encountered, doing little to shine it up in a prettier light. “I’m an idiot. I’m a moron,” he admitted. “. . . I can’t lie because I’m too stupid to plan ahead and lie.”

Johnson does have a minor criminal past, with previous convictions for assault and DWI. He also appears to have a jones for meth, having tested positive during a DWI conviction five years before.

That may explain why he failed to cleanse the house of the six guns police found in the home, some of which were stolen. He was charged with receiving stolen property. And since Debra's autopsy showed she'd died of meth toxicity, he was also charged with third-degree murder and felony criminal neglect.

Yet prosecutors apparently didn't feel Duane needed a full tune-up in the eyes of the law. Yes, the way he went about it could have been cleaner. But it's hard to blame a man for heeding his wife's wishes to die—and doing it they way she wanted.

This week, Brown County agreed to a deal. It would drop the murder and stolen property charges in exchange for a plea to criminal neglect. Prosecutors will recommend a three-year sentence.

At 59, that means Duane will have plenty of freedom left, allowing him to fire up the meth, crank the Quiet Riot, and honor the spirit of his dearly departed wife.