Two years ago when Tim Saari got into trouble with the law, he looked to his best friend — a father, a business owner — for guidance.
“He sat me down and said how I had to get a job and get my life together and stop making mistakes,” Saari recalled Thursday afternoon. “He was kind of like my mentor.”
But Thursday, that mentor, Ryan D. Petersen, was appearing in Ramsey County District Court on a first-degree murder charge. He’s accused of fatally shooting law clerk Chase Passauer in an office above the St. Paul restaurant W.A. Frost & Company in April.
Saari, just three days out of prison after serving an 11-month sentence for terroristic threats, appeared to be the only person in court Thursday supporting Petersen.
“It’s a huge shock to me,” Saari said of the allegations against his friend.
A grand jury handed down an indictment Wednesday that upgraded the original count filed against Petersen from second-degree murder with intent to first-degree murder, and also added one count each of second-degree murder with intent and possession of a firearm by an ineligible person.
Petersen, 37, of St. Paul, is charged with shooting Passauer, 23, of Minneapolis, six times in the stomach on April 7 at North Star Criminal Defense, on the second floor of the Dacotah Building in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood.
Petersen, who had hired one of the firm’s attorneys to represent him in a drunken driving and assault case, fired the attorney that day and had shown up at the office when he couldn’t reach the attorney by phone. Passauer was the only person in the office.
Thursday’s hearing was postponed to Friday because Petersen’s attorney, Gary Wolf, was not in court, a development that further stoked an already aggressive standoff between attorneys in the case.
Prosecutor Rick Dusterhoft, the Ramsey County attorney’s criminal division director, told Ramsey County District Judge Thomas Gilligan that on Wednesday, he had e-mailed Wolf a copy of the indictment and notice of Thursday’s hearing.
Dusterhoft requested the postponement of Thursday’s hearing when Wolf didn’t show.
Reached by phone Thursday, Wolf said the indictment was e-mailed to him about 4 p.m. Wednesday, and that he didn’t see it until Thursday afternoon after the start of Petersen’s hearing, which was one of many cases heard starting at 1:20 p.m.
The court and county attorney’s office had been given notice last week that Wolf would be in Tennessee all of this week for an unrelated case.
Wolf said he would find another attorney to represent Petersen Friday, and that he would later ask a judge to dismiss the first-degree murder indictment.
Petersen tried to plead guilty to second-degree murder last week, but Dusterhoft had produced an amended criminal complaint with the three counts that the grand jury approved Wednesday.
Dusterhoft said at the time that Petersen couldn’t plead because he hadn’t had a hearing on the new charges. In response, Wolf argued that the hearing was on the original count, and Petersen should be allowed to plead.
Saari, who hadn’t spoken to Petersen in 11 months, said he isn’t surprised Petersen wanted to plead early in his case.
“He agreed to second-degree murder because he knows what he did,” Saari said.
Petersen and Saari met about 14 years ago through a mutual friend, and bonded over the fact that Petersen was adopted from Puerto Rico by a white family, and Saari, adopted from Colombia by a white family.
Saari said Petersen deserves prison time, but not life in prison, which he could face if convicted of first-degree murder.
Passauer’s supporters declined to comment as they left Thursday’s hearing.