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Continued: Pete Orput: Prosecutor at large

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 20, 2013 - 10:00 PM

A Nebraska native with a harried demeanor, Orput’s three years in the Marines included combat duty as a field radio operator in a mortar platoon. Later he spent three years in the U.S. Army Reserve. In addition to his law degree he has a graduate degree in history and was a high school social studies teacher in Minneapolis for three years before entering William Mitchell College of Law. He’s been an assistant attorney in Mille Lacs, Carver, Washington and Dakota counties. Now he’s an adjunct faculty member in the police science department at St. Mary University in Minnesota.

Orput said he relies on reasoning and careful police work to win cases but shows his passion to juries when he needs it. “I think I like to throw hard punches. I just keep them fair,” he said.

Orput’s ex-wife, Lisa Henry, said he’s got “a compassionate side” that isn’t always evident to people who don’t know him. “He’s got a heart of gold but he’s got a layer of heavy artillery around it,” she said. “Being married to him was exhausting. He’s smart, he’s sharp, he’s street smart, he’s savvy. He gets intense but that helps him doing what he does. It’s hard to live with, but it’s perfect for what he’s doing.”

Orput’s role as chief prosecutor in the Little Falls case is curious to people who think Byron David Smith, 64, was defending his home when he shot the teenagers in November. Smith was charged with two counts of second-degree murder. Orput volunteered to take the case for the overwhelmed Morrison County attorney’s office.

Orput, who enjoys precision shooting as a hobby, said he’s never regretted taking the case even when he’s accused of being “anti-gun” for doing so. People have called him a “Nazi prosecutor” and worse.

“I’ve got two dead kids who didn’t need to die. I’m going to tell the jury, ‘Who among us didn’t do stupid stuff when they were kids?’ I never did a burglary, but I did stupid things and I got redemption. I call it God’s grace. These kids didn’t have that chance because this guy became obsessed and wanted to murder them.”

In recent weeks Orput has been immersed in preparations to try Fox, accused of killing Lori Christine Baker in 2011. Personally trying such a case would be impossible, he said, without leadership from his 49 employees and managerial advisory team.

“Selfishly, it frees me up to go to court where I love to be,” he said. “I’ve got the right people who want to do things. They want to meet with the public, they want to go to the schools, they want to get out there.”

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037

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  • Pete Orput, Washington County attorney, has become one of the most visible county attorneys in Minnesota since being elected. He is running again in 2014.

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