WASECA, MINN. – Almost two years to the day after John LaDue was discovered in a storage locker with materials and plans for a school massacre, a judge ruled Wednesday that the Waseca teen can return home to live with his parents while on probation.
LaDue, 19, has been residing under 24-hour state supervision in an undisclosed location and undergoing mental health evaluations since late January, after he pleaded guilty to one count of possessing an explosive device and served his entire jail sentence for that crime.
Attorneys revealed in court that two new evaluators found that LaDue suffered from depression, not autism, as previous evaluators had said. Evaluators found that LaDue is no longer depressed and his risk of causing imminent harm or long-term violence is low, the attorneys said.
Judge Joseph Chase ruled that LaDue can go home next Wednesday at noon.
LaDue was arrested after a resident noticed him suspiciously entering a storage locker the evening of April 29, 2014. Authorities found him with bomb-making materials, and he told them of his detailed plans to kill his family and carry out a massacre at his school.
His drawn-out legal case started with attempted-murder charges that the courts later dismissed, saying he hadn’t taken steps substantial enough to warrant such charges. The case’s quiet end was a stark contrast to the national spotlight that shone when police arrested him and announced his lone plot.
As part of his sentence, LaDue agreed to undergo an unspecified amount of treatment during probation up to 10 years. If that is successful, his felony will then be reduced to a misdemeanor on his record.
LaDue appeared in court on Wednesday and seemed relaxed. He said little, except to chat with court officials before the hearing.
Waseca County Attorney Brenda Miller said that during the evaluation period, LaDue has been under 24-hour, one-on-one care arranged by the Minnesota Department of Human Services at a cost of $1,400 a day.
“He really doesn’t need that level of supervision,” Miller said. Other placements were considered, but LaDue said he wanted to go home, she said.
She said the two evaluators “opined that John is not autistic; he was suffering from depression.” The evaluators found that not only is LaDue no longer depressed, “he is nowhere near the person he was when he was planning to bomb and murder people,” she said.
Miller said she had concerns about the latest evaluators’ conclusions, however, and stressed previous expert recommendations that LaDue not be isolated.
Judge Chase said he found persuasive the evaluators’ conclusion that LaDue poses a low risk as long as he continues to follow probationary requirements.
While officials considered other housing in communities in Minnesota, “no obvious better placement [than the LaDue family home] has presented itself,” the judge said.
Most of the time what a person on probation actually wants is only of secondary consideration, but because LaDue already has served a full sentence, his desire to return home was taken into account.
Continued supervised probation should “help the community feel safe,” the judge said. “Waseca is owed that, given the scare [LaDue] gave this community.”
LaDue’s attorney, Jeff Johnson, who is the Third Judicial District’s chief public defender, pointed out that LaDue has been cooperating during the entire court process.
Probation conditions include typical requirements such as a ban on alcohol and recreational drugs. LaDue will be allowed Internet access, but his use must be able to be monitored. He will not be allowed to go to sites containing violence or weapon-making. In addition, he must seek employment or enroll in classes — something LaDue has said he is eager to do, according to his father.
LaDue must meet with a mental health therapist once a week and a psychiatrist once a month, and he must talk to his probation officer daily by phone and meet with that officer in person once a week.
Sheriff’s deputies will search the LaDue house before he returns home next week to make sure there are no weapons or other dangerous materials there.
Parents will welcome him
John’s father, David LaDue, said he and his wife are looking forward to having their son come home, where, they said, he’ll benefit from their company — as well as that of a family cat that he has missed.
“He’s been restless, because he hasn’t been allowed to work or do community service,” David LaDue said, but he has enjoyed playing his guitar, reading books and cooking for himself in an apartment where family members have visited.
John LaDue hasn’t decided what kind of work or study he wants to do yet, his father said; if needed, the family will consider moving to provide him with opportunities. “Whatever we need to do to make it work for him,” the father said.
In the meantime, David LaDue said that while his wife works days, he works a rotating schedule that includes nights, so his son will not be home alone much.
Any change in John LaDue’s residency would have to be approved by the Department of Corrections, under the judge’s order.
David LaDue said he has noticed a marked change in his son. “I think he seems eager to put this behind him,” he said.
He said John’s continued probation is all being undertaken voluntarily, which he believes implies “long-term thinking” on his son’s part toward a more hopeful future.