DULUTH -- Jamie McNeary and Jacob Borman connected through a common bond: addiction.

It was from the disease that Borman, a 40-year-old father of two, died in December 2018. And it was because of his death that McNeary, a 51-year-old who moved to Duluth in hopes of getting sober, will spend the next several years in prison.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Eric Hylden on Monday sentenced McNeary to 6¼ years for his role in selling Borman a fatal dose of heroin and fentanyl.

"He's not the one who killed Mr. Borman," St. Louis County prosecutor Vicky Wanta said. "Drugs are what killed Mr. Borman. But it's also important to acknowledge that even the smallest actions can have a major impact on other people."

McNeary pleaded guilty in February to a felony count of second-degree manslaughter, agreeing to take responsibility in exchange for a reduced sentence. A co-defendant, Jacob Jordan Johnson, was convicted by a jury in January on a third-degree murder charge and awaits a June 22 sentencing date.

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Jacob Jordan Johnson
Jacob Jordan Johnson

Court documents state that Johnson would arrange heroin deals for Borman a few times a week, connecting him with dealers. McNeary testified at his plea hearing that he never knew Borman until Johnson brought them together at an East Hillside gas station in December of 2018.

McNeary said he sold about $20 worth of heroin to Johnson, who then provided it to Borman. Later that evening, Borman's girlfriend found him unresponsive in his bathroom with a syringe nearby.

The victim's mother, Carrie Borman, told the court that her son was "very independent from an early age" and "never afraid of being himself." She said his daughter, 21, and son, 14, have been left to deal with the fallout from the "tragic circumstances of their dad's death."

"I still go to the phone to call him," Carrie Borman said in a letter read by Wanta. "Our minds know he is gone but our hearts can't accept it."

McNeary extended an apology to Borman's family and everyone affected by his death.

The defendant, nicknamed "Memphis" for his hometown, said he also has long struggled with addiction, giving up cocaine and moving to Duluth in 2011. He said he hoped to open sober-living houses in the city, but instead found himself using new drugs: methamphetamine and heroin.

"Addiction rose its ugly head again," McNeary told the judge. "This is an eye-opener for me."

Hylden told the defendant he'll have another opportunity to make change. McNeary must serve at least two-thirds of the prison term before he is eligible for supervised release. With credit for time served, he stands to get out in about three years.

McNeary appeared for the sentencing hearing via video from the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud, where he has been incarcerated since pleading guilty, as the hearing was conducted electronically due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hylden presided from the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth, while prosecutor Wanta, defense attorney Gerald Wallace and probation officer Tammy Kimball all participated remotely, rather than making standard in-person appearances.

"I want to thank everyone for making this work," Hylden said at the outset. "It's been quite an education for me."