No charges in Prince death after two-year probe

Emily Sohn
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Prince will be the subject of a new documentary series directed by Ava DuVernay of "Selma" fame

Two years after Prince's death, prosecutors said Thursday they would not file any criminal charges as they could not determine how the pop icon obtained the counterfeit painkillers that killed him.

Prosecutors reached a settlement with one doctor in Prince's native Minnesota who had prescribed drugs for the superstar, but said they found no evidence that he gave the lethal dose to the Purple One.

"The bottom line is we simply do not have sufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime related to Prince's death," Mark Metz, the attorney of Carver County, home to Prince's Paisley Park estate, told reporters.

Prince died on April 21, 2016 from an accidental overdose of the ultra-potent drug fentanyl as the singer had just started to reach out for help for his dependency.

Metz concluded that Prince thought he was taking another drug, Vicodin, when instead the pills he had were packed with fentanyl. Where those pills came from remains a mystery.

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

"There is no evidence that the pill or pills that actually killed Prince were prescribed by a doctor. There is also no evidence to suggest any other sinister motive, intent or conspiracy to murder Prince."

Metz acknowledged that someone gave Prince the deadly pills, saying: "There is no doubt that the actions of individuals around Prince will be criticized, questioned and judged in the days and weeks to come."

But he added: "Suspicions and innuendo are categorically insufficient to support any criminal charges."

- Surprise face of epidemic -

Prince's death stunned fans and bandmates as the 57-year-old was outwardly a model of health who rarely drank alcohol, ate a vegetarian diet and would boot musicians who abused drugs out of his studio.

But the "Purple Rain" star -- so versatile he could literally play guitar blind-folded behind his back -- secretly suffered from pain stemming from a hip operation.

In his death, Prince -- who had kept pills in bottles marked with over-the-counter labels such as Bayer and Aleve -- became the most famous face of the epidemic of painkiller abuse in the United States.

Last year, more than 42,000 people died and 2.1 million others abused opioids around the country, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, with lower-middle-class white communities especially hard-hit.

"Prince's death is a tragic example that opioid addiction and overdose deaths do not discriminate, no matter the demographic," Metz said.

Prince's sudden death set off a messy battle to determine control of his estate -- estimated to be worth up to $300 million with an untold number of songs still pending in his legendary vaults.

Prince left no will and had no spouse or surviving child, meaning control went to his siblings.

His Paisley Park estate, once a hideaway of mythic proportions which fans boasted of being able to enter, has since been opened for tours as his estate looks to monetize his legacy.

- Doctor reaches settlement -

Shortly before Thursday's announcement about the criminal probe, federal prosecutors said they had reached a settlement with Minnesota doctor Michael Schulenberg.

The physician had allegedly funneled pills to Prince by making out prescriptions to Kirk Johnson, a longtime drummer for the artist who also managed Paisley Park.

But Metz said that the motivation was to protect Prince's privacy and that there was no evidence that Schulenberg gave the star fentanyl.

Nancy Robarge, a lawyer for Johnson, voiced relief the drummer was not charged, saying that Thursday's decision "affirms his innocence, and he will continue to mourn and honor his friend every day."

Schulenberg notably prescribed painkillers when Prince suffered pain before a concert in Atlanta on April 14, 2016.

The show turned out to be his last, with Prince's private plane making an emergency landing on the way home in Moline, Illinois as he fell unconscious from suspected pills.

Schulenberg agreed to pay $30,000 to the federal government and undergo supervision, including allowing the US Drug Enforcement Administration to inspect the logs of the medications he is prescribing. He did not admit any liability.

US Attorney Greg Brooker, the top federal prosecutor for Minnesota, vowed to pursue other doctors for prescription abuse.

"Doctors are trusted medical professionals and, in the midst of our opioid crisis, they must be part of the solution," he said in a statement.

"We are committed to using every available tool to stem the tide of opioid abuse."