A St. Paul man was convicted Friday morning of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole for fatally shooting law clerk Chase Passauer earlier this year.
Ryan D. Petersen, 37, was also convicted of second-degree murder with intent and illegal possession of a firearm. Ramsey County District Judge William Leary returned the verdicts Friday morning after a three-day bench trial earlier this week. Petersen waived a jury trial.
In a statement read aloud by Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Rick Dusterhoft, Passauer's father, Christopher Passauer, recalled how he was two hours from St. Paul when he first received news that there had been a shooting at his son's workplace.
He rushed toward the city, calling family members and friends for any updates. He was still in Wisconsin when his mother delivered the news: Chase was dead.
"My baby … my best friend was gone," Dusterhoft read as his voice cracked with emotion. "This pain is a black hole."
Dusterhoft's voice strained as he continued reading Passauer's letter. St. Paul police Sgt. Tom Arnold, the lead investigator in the case, wiped tears from the corner of his eye as some of the approximately five dozen attendees sniffled, leaned on nearby shoulders or reached out a comforting hand to those near them.
"I will never get to hear him say, 'I love you, dad,' " Dusterhoft read. "I will miss my son … every second of every day for the rest of my life."
Passauer's sister, Chelsea Passauer, said her brother was her greatest confidant and protector. She and others who spoke in court Friday described Petersen as a "monster" and "coward" who expressed no genuine sorrow for his actions.
"The only remorse that I did see was for himself," Chelsea Passauer said.
Petersen declined to speak on his own behalf before Leary handed down the life sentence and a concurrent five-year sentence for the gun charge. No sentence was given for the lesser murder conviction.
Leary began his comments by noting that Passauer, 23, had aspired to become a criminal defense attorney one day.
"The brutality with which Mr. Passauer's life was taken is self-evident," Leary said. "If Chase Passauer was as great an individual as people have expressed … he wanted to work with criminals because he, on some level, probably recognized that no one is beyond redemption.
"When no person is beyond redemption, that includes you," the judge said to Petersen. "I hope you'll do your best to do whatever you can to make up for this unfortunate event."
Passauer was working at North Star Criminal Defense in St. Paul's Cathedral Hill neighborhood when Petersen shot him eight times at about 4 p.m. on April 7. The firm issued a written statement after the sentencing, noting that Passauer was a "firm believer in our criminal justice system" and would have been proud with the case's outcome.
"The result of the trial presents nothing like closure, because no one here can ever forget Chase, and all that he meant to us," the statement said. "Chase came to North Star Law Group with an absence of experience, but with a sense of humor and curiosity for the ages … and he began ringing up successes from the start. For instance, his first legal brief was used to get felony charges dismissed."
Petersen admitted in testimony Tuesday that he shot Passauer in a fit of rage. He testified that the day of the shooting, he texted and called his attorney, Dan Adkins, about a parking issue outside of his business. He said he became upset that Adkins wasn't more responsive, and drove to North Star Criminal Defense to fire Adkins and recoup some of the $7,000 he had paid.
Passauer was the office's only occupant. Petersen said he shot the Minneapolis man because of an "emotional explosion" triggered by Adkins' absence. Adkins was representing Petersen for drunken driving and for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
Passauer graduated from Hastings High School in 2011 and from the University of Minnesota in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in political science and philosophy. He was active in the North Star Umpires, whose members wore a home plate badge with Passauer's initials and number Friday.
"We're going to miss him," said fellow umpire Mike Bohlken. "The sentence means something … but … he's just not going to be back."