Albert Lea woman pleads not guilty to selling pills that led to sister’s death

Published 5:22 pm Monday, February 6, 2023

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An Albert Lea woman pleaded not guilty Monday in Fillmore County District Court to allegedly selling her sister drugs that proved fatal.

Jeanne Ellen Penhollow, 50, entered the plea to four counts against her: one count of third-degree murder-sell/give/distribute controlled substance, one count of third-degree murder-sell/give/distribute controlled substance-accomplice after the fact, one charge of third-degree narcotics sales and one charge of fourth-degree sales.

Her lawyer, James McGeeney, requested a jury trial for his client, waiving the timeline for a speedy trial.

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McGeeney said he planned to consult with an expert witness after the hearing regarding the autopsy report for the woman who died, Teresa Marie Conway.

According to court documents, Penhollow reported finding her sister’s body on the floor of the garage of her parents’ house on Feb. 2, 2021, in rural Chatfield.

Penhollow reported she had last seen her sister at about 1 a.m. that morning when she was out with the cats. Outside of the garage there was a cat shed, and cat treats could be found on the ground between the cat shed and the walk-in garage entrance.

She told authorities that her sister took oxycodone and denied that she may have taken any other forms of medication or recreational drugs.

Family reported the woman had significant back pain, migraines and a history of asthma and that she had been prescribed medication for pain through Olmsted Medical Center.

Court documents stated the results of the autopsy found that the woman’s cause of death was toxic effects of fentanyl and oxycodone.

On Dec. 20, 2021, Penhollow’s niece contacted a Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office investigator regarding her mother’s death and a text message exchange that had taken place a few days prior with Penhollow.

The niece said she had sent a message to Penhollow on Dec. 16, 2021, stating that she knew what had happened the night her mother died, to which Penhollow reportedly responded with, “I got a few pills for her. I have gotten them before from that person, nothing happened to anyone else. She had a few different pills …”

In an interview with the investigator two days later, Penhollow said her sister was in a lot of pain in her head and back and that she did not get pills from “a junkie” or “somebody on the street corner,” court records stated. She stated in the past she had gotten prescriptions for her sister.

When asked about the source of the pills that her sister may have used the night of her death, Penhollow said she did not know the source and said, “I never meant to hurt my sister.” She refused to say where the pills came from, stating they had come from close friends and family.

She said she had come to her parents’ house to spend the night and spend time with her sister. She said her sister did not have any pills prior to her arriving at the house the night before she was found but that she discovered pills at the house following her death.

Penhollow told the investigator the pills, which were stamped, appeared to be legitimate and that her sister had looked them up before taking them. There were three pills, and Penhollow said she found 1 1/2 left in the garage partially crushed in a dish after her sister’s death and reportedly threw them out the window.

Court records state Penhollow reportedly admitted that she picked up the pills on her way to the residence the night before her sister died.

Penhollow’s lawyer previously questioned probable cause in the case and argued that the evidence contained from Penhollow’s phone and her statement to investigators must be suppressed. He questioned whether the phone was seized lawfully and whether the warrant to search the phone was valid.

The motions were denied by District Court Judge Nancy Buytendorp.

Penhollow is slated for a settlement conference May 30 with a jury trial slated for June 19.