Prosecutor declines to file criminal charges in Prince death investigation

Prosecutors in Minnesota announced Thursday no criminal charges will be filed in the investigation into 2016 overdose death of music icon Prince. 

Prince Rogers Nelson was found alone and unresponsive in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate on April 21, 2016. A 911 call placed at 9:43 a.m. that day informed the dispatcher, "Yes, it's Prince." Prince was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m. He was 57 years old. 

Public data released six weeks after his death showed he died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin.

On Thursday, Carver County Attorney Mark Metz said the evidence shows Prince thought he was taking Vicodin, but the pills he took were counterfeit and contained fentanyl. The pills were an exact imitation of real Vicodin pills. 

"In all likelihood, Prince had no idea he was taking a counterfeit pill that could kill him," Metz said. 

There is no evidence to suggest anyone around Prince knew the pills were counterfeit and contained fentanyl either, Metz said. 

During the investigation, authorities were unable to determine the source of the counterfeit Vicodin containing fentanyl. There was no evidence the counterfeit pills were prescribed by a doctor. 

Prince had reportedly experienced significant pain for a number of years and was addicted to pain medication, but took efforts to protect his privacy. 

The investigation revealed Dr. Michael Schulenberg, a local physician, had prescribed Percocet for Prince the week before his death for pain in his hip. He wrote the prescription in the name of Kirk Johnson, a longtime friend and associate of Prince’s.  

But, Prince died from the counterfeit Vicodin pills, not the prescribed Percocet, Metz said. 

Johnson's attorney F. Clayton Tyler said his client is relieved no criminal charges were filed against him. Johnson is the one who had asked Schulenberg to write the prescription. 

"[Johnson] continues to deny that he had anything to do with the death of his close friend, Prince," Tyler said in a statement. "Prince's death was a tragedy that few could experience more deeply than Kirk Johnson. Today's decision affirms his innocence and he will continue to mourn and honor his friend every day." 

Schulenberg has agreed to pay $30,000 to the federal government to settle alleged drug violations for the writing the prescription.