Matras pleads guilty to manslaughter; Charged in overdose death of Austin man

Published 10:52 am Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Robert James Matras, 47, of Austin pleaded guilty to felony second-degree manslaughter – culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk – as part of a plea agreement on Tuesday in Steele County District Court. He initially pleaded not guilty on Aug. 1.

A charge of felony third-degree murder – sell/give/distribute controlled substance – schedules 1 and 2 – will be dismissed at the sentencing as part of the agreement.

Matras was arrested on July 10 as a suspect in the drug overdose death of 24-year-old Jesse Robert Frohwein of Austin.

Robert James Matras, 47

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Court documents state that a woman called 911 on July 10 and reported that she heard from the friend of a friend that someone was overdosing in a car at the Kwik Trip North in the 2200 block of 46th Street Northwest in Owatonna. An Owatonna police officer arrived on the scene at about 6:55 a.m. and observed a vehicle with a broken windshield that was not parked properly in the south end of the lot. He approached the vehicle and saw a man, later identified as Frohwein, laying half in the front driver’s seat and half in the front passenger seat with his left arm grasping part of the passenger door/window trim. The passenger side front window looked as if it had been kicked and shattered from the inside. The officer checked for a pulse on Frohwein’s carotid artery, but did not detect one. He then radioed dispatch and reported Frohwein was deceased. A medical examiner determined that Frohwein had been deceased for about three to four hours before the officer found him.

The license plate on the vehicle was found to be registered to Frohwein.

Surveillance footage from Kwik Trip showed the vehicle pulling into the store’s lot at about 3:57 a.m. A white male wearing a grey colored T-shirt and jeans was then seen leaving the vehicle and walking into the store at about 4:12 a.m. A white Mitsubishi Mirage pulled up to the gas pumps at about 4:16 a.m. and the man was seen leaving the store with the Mitsubishi’s driver.

An Austin police detective identified the man as Matras.

An Owatonna detective received a search warrant for the phones and electronic devices located in the vehicle. While searching Frohwein’s phone, the detective found an early morning message between Frohwein and another man. In it, Frohwein gave a Kwik Trip location that police were unable to identify and stated he had been given a “parachute,” a term used to describe methamphetamine wrapped in toilet paper or plastic wrap for delayed absorption, which is then swallowed. He indicated that he was in a bathroom and said, “Im (sic) shaking.” The man then told Frohwein, “Get in your car get in the zone and just drive (sic).”

The detective spoke to the man with whom Frohwein was conversing and learned the Kwik Trip was located in Prior Lake.

The detective then found a Facebook message from Frohwein to Matras. Frohwein asked, “How much did you give me?” He then attempted to contact Matras on Facebook messenger several times between 2 a.m. and 2:10 a.m. without answer.

Surveillance footage obtained from the Prior Lake Kwik Trip showed the vehicle arriving at about 1:54 a.m. and Frohwein exiting the vehicle and heading into the bathroom. He then exited the bathroom at about 2:17 a.m. and walked out of the store, holding his chest with his left hand. Footage also showed Matras and Frohwein conversing before Matras got into the driver’s seat. The vehicle departed at about 2:20 a.m.

Jesse Robert Frohwein, 24

An investigator contacted the original 911 caller, who said Matras called her begging her for help. She said he told her he was at a Kwik Trip near Faribault, that his friend was overdosing and that he had to get him to the hospital. She said Matras was “freaking out” and was scared. He told her he tried to hold down Frohwein, who was thrashing and kicking and had broken the windshield. She picked up Matras at a Walmart in Faribault and drove him to Austin. She told him they should call if he was worried and Matras said Frohwein was at a Kwik Trip in Owatonna. She then called 911.

The investigator contacted the South Central Drug Investigation Unit and reported that Matras had been with Frohwein. An SCDIU agent arrived at Matras’ Austin residence and advised law enforcement when Matras’ vehicle was seen leaving the residence. Austin police officers pulled Matras over and arrested him.

Matras told police he got a ride from Frohwein, whom he had met in jail, to see his girlfriend in Apple Valley. On the way back, Matras said Frohwein started “flipping out,” hitting the shifter and knocking the car out of drive. He then said he started looking for someone else to give him a ride after Frohwein kicked out the windshield. He said he got a ride from a younger guy with tattoos driving a white car. He claimed he was dropped off at Walmart in Faribault and told the guy to call and say that someone was overdosing.

Police executed a search warrant on Matras’ residence on July 11. They found crystalline substances in his bedroom and den, along with several pieces of drug paraphernalia and the boots he was seen wearing in the surveillance footage.

The investigator spoke with Matras on July 12 at the Mower County Jail. Matras said he suggested making the parachute with methamphetamine because they did not have paraphernalia. He said he made the parachute using tissue paper on the floor, but said he was not sure how big he made it, saying it may have been half a gram. Matras said Frohwein took the parachute while they were in Apple Valley and that Frohwein was jerking the car as they were driving back. He said they took the first rest stop they could to get Frohwein water and indicated he knew something was wrong because Frohwein was sweating more than normal. He said Frohwein said, “Don’t leave me, don’t leave after we get to Kwik Trip in Owatonna.” Matras said he bailed because he didn’t want to get caught driving on a cancelled license. He also said he could still hear Frohwein when he got a ride from the Kwik Trip in Owatonna and that Frohwein was honking the horn as he left. He said he suggested calling 911 when he got to Austin to see if Frohwein was okay.

A review of Matras’ criminal history shows prior convictions for a first-degree controlled substance crime, unlawful possession of a firearm, drug possession, domestic assault and violating a no contact order. He is currently awaiting disposition on charges of hit and run, drug sales and drug possession.

Matras will be sentenced on Feb. 28.