July 29: Judge scales back charges against Waseca teen plotting school attack

Six of the Waseca teenager’s 12 charges, including attempted premeditated murder, were dismissed.

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June 18, 2014: John LaDue, accused of planning an attack on his school, was taken to the courthouse for a hearing.

Photo: Rick Sennott, Star Tribune

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A district judge on Monday dismissed the most serious charges against John LaDue, the Waseca teenager accused of secretly plotting a school massacre this spring, saying prosecutors hadn’t shown that the boy’s actions went beyond “mere preparation.’’

Judge Gerald Wolf dismissed all four charges of attempted premeditated murder against LaDue, as well as two charges of attempted first-degree damage to property, noting that the state “failed to show that [LaDue] made a substantial step … toward the commission” of the crimes.

Wolf let stand six charges that LaDue was in possession of explosive devices.

The decision means a drastically different case for LaDue, who, if certified as an adult, faced up to 18 years in prison if convicted of one count of first-degree attempted murder. The remaining charges — possessing an incendiary device — carry much lesser sentences, his defense attorney said.

“We’re pleased that Judge Wolf utilized his 30-plus years of experience to render the legally correct decision in a controversial case,” defense attorney Dawn Johnson said.

The ruling, released Monday afternoon, brought relief to the LaDue family, which has maintained that John LaDue, 17, needs help for mental illness, not an extended prison sentence.

Reached Monday evening, his father said the family was still trying to understand what the dismissals will mean for the next steps in the case.

“I very much want him to find a way to continue on with his life when this is over with, and it looks like chances are better now for that,” David LaDue said.

LaDue cannot be charged with the exact same counts again, his attorney added, although prosecutors could appeal the judge’s ruling.

Prosecutor Brenda Miller could not be reached Monday evening.

The case left the city of Waseca reeling and breathing a sigh of relief that LaDue never had the chance to carry out his plans.

LaDue, in police interviews, calmly and precisely described plans to “dispose of” his father, mother and sister by shooting them, then set a fire in the country for a diversion, carrying out a massacre at the junior and senior high schools in town, including targeting school liaison officer Jared Chrz. He told police that he wanted as many victims as possible, because he thought it would be “fun” and he would be following his idol, Columbine gunman Eric Harris.

His plan was thwarted when a local woman became suspicious when she saw him fumble with a lock at a storage facility and shut the door behind him, and she called 911. When police arrived, they found bomb-making materials, and LaDue, over the next several hours, told them of his plans. He directed police to a journal that he kept in his bedroom that also detailed his plot.

He told police that he thought that he was mentally ill and that no one had noticed because he’d been trying to hide it.

‘Pure speculation’

In the order issued Monday, the judge found that “There is no doubt [LaDue] was preparing for the commission of some of the charged crimes. He wrote about his plan in his journal, thought about it, gathered material to execute the plan and later confessed his plan to law enforcement.”

“However,” the judge wrote, “at no point did [LaDue] verbally or physically threaten his family or Officer Chrz, brandish or shoot a firearm toward [them], transport the necessary materials to the locations established in his plan or injure or maim any individual.”

In his order, Wolf noted that LaDue had intended to act on his plan on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, but changed that plan because it was Easter Sunday.

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