News Guide: Prince died of overdose, but questions linger
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Autopsy results showing that Prince died of a fentanyl overdose cleared up some of the mystery surrounding his sudden death, but the findings also vaulted the investigation into new territory and raised the possibility of criminal charges for anyone who improperly supplied him with the drug. Here’s a recap of where the case stands:
Six weeks after Prince’s body was discovered in an elevator at his Paisley Park compound, a Minnesota medical examiner issued a one-page report Thursday that said Prince died from taking a fatal dose of fentanyl. The drug was “self-administered,” the coroner wrote, and the death was ruled an accident. The report confirmed suspicions that arose almost immediately after the 57-year-old performer died on April 21.
Though Prince’s death was considered accidental, a person who provided him with drugs improperly could still face serious legal trouble. Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller far more powerful than heroin, and it is blamed for a surge of overdose deaths in some parts of the country. The drug has many legitimate uses, but is tightly controlled because of its risks.
A major question for investigators is whether Prince had a legitimate prescription for fentanyl. If he did not, the person who gave it to him could be prosecuted. At least one friend has said Prince suffered from intense knee and hip pain from many years of stage performances.
Federal law sets a 20-year minimum sentence for someone who illegally provides fentanyl that kills a person. In Minnesota, doing so could net a third-degree murder charge and as much as 25 years in prison.
WHO MAY BE TARGETED
Two doctors were already under scrutiny before the autopsy findings. Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg, a family practitioner, saw Prince April 7 and 20, the day before he died. He told investigators he prescribed medications for the singer, but a search warrant did not specify which medications. His attorney, Amy Conners, has said patient-privacy laws do not allow her to say what the prescriptions were. She said Schulenberg was interviewed by investigators the day Prince died, but not since.
Dr. Howard Kornfeld, a California addiction specialist, has said he was contacted by Paisley Park staffers the day before Prince died, seeking help for the musician. Kornfeld sent his son Andrew to Minnesota that night, and the younger Kornfeld was among those who found Prince’s body.
Andrew Kornfeld was carrying buprenorphine, a medication that can be used to help treat opioid addiction. The Kornfelds’ attorney, William Mauzy, has said Andrew — a non-physician unable to legally prescribe the drug — had intended to give the medication to a doctor who planned to see Prince on April 21.
Kirk Johnson, a longtime friend of Prince’s and a Paisley Park insider who also discovered Prince’s body, has been interviewed by investigators. The Minneapolis Star Tribune, citing a source with knowledge of the investigation, reported that Schulenberg was Johnson’s doctor and that Johnson recommended him to Prince. Johnson has issued a statement through his attorney asking for privacy.
Meanwhile, the business of sorting through Prince’s estate — certain to be worth millions, with significant earning potential even after death — continues in Carver County probate court. Sister Tyka Nelson said Prince had no known will. She and five other siblings stand to share equally in his fortune under Minnesota law.
The discovery of a will could change that dramatically. Meanwhile, the probate court is also setting up a process to consider any claims from purported heirs. A Colorado prison inmate has claimed to be Prince’s son, conceived in a Kansas City hotel room in July 1976. A woman and a girl have claimed to be niece and grandniece, and another woman has claimed to be a half-sister.
The probate court is setting up a process to verify or reject such claims.