MINNEAPOLIS — This week, a 34-year-old South Saint Paul woman was scheduled to stand trial for murder. Monica Gould was accused of providing the drugs that killed a 23-year-old woman in Eden Prairie two years ago.
But the Hennepin County Attorney's Office had to drop charges after the case's key witness died from a drug overdose.
It was a tragic fate that Amy Portillo's family knew the 23-year-old could one day meet.
"Amy was just a beautiful person, but she was self-destructive at times," said Amy's mother Carolyn Joyce.
In August 2021, Amy was found in an Eden Prairie house dead from an overdose, with drug paraphernalia all over.
Carolyn said Amy knew the onus and responsibility of her drug use was on her. But the mother was angered to learn the woman who gave Amy the drugs -- Monica Gould -- gave her fentanyl-laced heroin, presumably without Amy knowing the drugs contained the potent opioid.
"And then allowed her to die on the floor. Amy had Narcan -- that's how exact Amy was about things like that," Carolyn said.
Prosecutors charged Gould with 3rd-degree murder, a charge that can be used against drug dealers.
County attorneys across the state have ramped up these types of prosecutions over the last five years. In 2018, 25 suspected drug dealers were charged with 3rd-degree murder. Last year that number jumped to 62.
The prosecution's case rested on the testimony of Gould's friend Natalie Hersch. The criminal complaint says Hersch drove Gould to the Eden Prairie house, noted the heroin seemed stronger than other heroin, and warned Gould. Then after learning Amy died, Hersch told police Gould expressed guilt and say it was her fault.
Then last month, with Gould's trial approaching, Natalie was found dead in a St. Louis Park apartment from a drug overdose involving fentanyl.
So, prosecutors, this week dropped the murder charge against Gould, writing that there's insufficient evidence given the death of an essential witness.
"And my thought was, isn't that convenient," Carolyn said.
Carolyn never wanted Gould locked up forever.
"I just wanted some accountability," she said.
Now Natalie's death is under investigation -- and a search warrant reveals police are checking whether she had recent contact with Gould.
In order to cope with Amy's death, her mom feels she can no longer let herself worry about the courts.
"I just had to let that go," she said.
Since the death of Natalie Hersch is an open investigation, St. Louis Park Police are not commenting on it except to say these types of investigations do take a long time.
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