Jacob Avald Howard, 26, of Saginaw, Minnesota has been charged with third-degree murder for allegedly selling a 24-year-old Pine County man the illegal opiate drugs which caused his death. 

According to the criminal complaint filed in Pine County Court, on Aug. 5 at 9 a.m. a deputy of the Pine County Sheriff’s Office responded to a Finlayson residence where Austin Michael Winter had been found dead in a fish house.

The deputy observed the deceased man lying on his back over a spare tire on the floor. On the floor and near Winter’s body was a capped hypodermic needle that appeared to have been fully plunged and contained no liquid. There was a fresh needle track on the deceased man’s arm.

The deputy observed that there was no container or spoon that would have been used to liquefy controlled substances and draw up a syringe for injection in the fish house. Three closed pill bottles were located on a shelf. One had no label and various pills. The other two were medications prescribed to Winter. A phone was found on the floor.

The deceased man’s mother and stepfather told the deputy that Winter was a heroin addict who graduated from recovery on Aug. 2. He was staying in the fish house, and the last time they saw him alive was the afternoon of Aug. 4 before his stepfather found his body on the morning of Aug. 5.

On the phone, investigators found a text conversation with the profile name “Jake Howard” which took place on Aug. 4.

In that conversation, Howard allegedly discussed selling Winter “fetty” which is slang for fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that often causes fatal overdose deaths. Winter had made a request for a “clean” and “water” which is slang for a clean hypodermic needle and water to liquefy the opiates for injection. This explained why law enforcement did not locate a spoon or vial in the fish house, because Howard allegedly supplied the needle loaded with the opiates.

Winter also made a reference to “ridin clean,” slang for being sober. Winter and Howard also messaged about meeting for the drug deal in a hotel parking lot. Law enforcement obtained security video that showed Howard walking to the parking lot of the hotel on the morning of Aug. 4 at 9:43 a.m. Howard approached Winter’s car in the hotel’s parking lot at 9:44 a.m. and entered the front seat. Winter then drove out of the parking lot at 9:57 a.m. with Howard in the car.

On Aug. 6, an autopsy was conducted by Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Ann Bracey.  Bracey determined that the cause of death was mixed drug toxicity. A blood screen revealed that Austin had high levels of acetyl fentanyl, fentanyl and methamphetamine. Bracey noted that acetyl fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and controlled substance that has been implicated in several deaths and is estimated to be five times more potent than heroin. She also noted that fentanyl  is a synthetic morphine substitute that is 80 to 200 times as potent as morphine. Methamphetamine (an upper) is often mixed or used with fentanyl (a downer) to counteract sickness that can follow fentanyl/opiate use.

Howard has an open felony controlled substance case in St. Louis County for alleged heroin possession. He has a gross misdemeanor controlled substance conviction from 2018 in St. Louis County, and a felony possession of a narcotic drug conviction in Wisconsin. There are three active warrants for his arrest. The maximum charge for third-degree murder is 25 years in prison, a fine of $40,000, or both.

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