WASECA, Minn. – Lawyers for the teenager accused of plotting to set off bombs and shoot students at the local school won a minor victory in a hearing Wednesday when Judge Gerald Wolf ordered that a notebook outlining the plot and all references to it be sealed, at least for the time being.
The 180-page notebook, which dates back to July, is a key piece of evidence for the prosecution, which contends the teen was close to carrying out his plan before he was detected. Authorities allege that John LaDue plotted to kill his mother, father and sister, then create a diversion for first responders so he could go to Waseca Junior/Senior High School to carry out a massacre.
A larger issue loomed during the proceedings: how the justice system should treat a 17-year-old accused of making horrific — but unfulfilled — plans.
John LaDue’s father said after the hearing that his family is worried that if prosecutors succeed in certifying the teen as an adult and sending him to prison, he will lose his chance at a future, over a plan he never carried out.
David LaDue said he believes his son would never have acted on his dark thoughts: “I don’t see how he would have ever been able to actually do that, no matter how much he would have liked to entertain that idea … because it’s inhuman.”
In court Wednesday, John LaDue wore an oversize suit coat and respectfully answered basic questions before his attorneys discussed their motions to seal the notebook and keep out statements the teen made to police.
Authorities said they found the teen with bomb-making materials in a storage locker in late April, after a 911 caller grew suspicious when she saw the teen go inside and close the door.
He soon told authorities that he had intended to kill “as many students as he could,” according to the charges, by setting off pressure cooker bombs and gunning down students in the halls.
Defense attorneys contend those statements shouldn’t be allowed in court.
“I personally have issue with how a 17-year-old can be allowed to waive their rights. I really don’t understand that,” David LaDue said. “He can’t buy a pack of cigarettes, he can’t vote, but he can completely waive his constitutional rights thinking he knows what he’s doing, and I don’t think he understood what he was doing.”
LaDue was charged as a juvenile with four counts of attempted murder, two counts of first-degree damage to property and six counts of possession of a bomb by someone under 18. If convicted of one count of first-degree attempted murder as an adult, LaDue could serve up to 18 years, according to state guidelines. But if he’s convicted as a juvenile, he could be released from detention when he turns 21.
David LaDue said he and his wife visit their son regularly and the teen is doing everything that he supposed to do there and is handling his incarceration well.
The family is frustrated, David LaDue said, that they aren’t being allowed to have more involvement in his case. They also worry their son isn’t getting enough mental health care.
David LaDue said he believes the alleged bombs that authorities found were actually three empty pipes with fuses and three CO2 cartridges about the size of thumbs that were filled with gunpowder and fuses. “They are explosives, but I don’t know if they fit the common perception of what a bomb is,” he said. The father said he owned the guns that the teen had.
“We’re dealing with mourning the end of my son’s childhood and the fact that we have no say in getting him any help or where he’s being kept or the conditions he’s being kept in,” David LaDue said.
Judge Wolf scheduled an adult certification hearing for John LaDue on July 30.