The state Court of Appeals will hear arguments today about whether teenager John LaDue carried out enough of his unfulfilled family slaying and school massacre plans to be prosecuted for attempted murder and attempted property damage.
Prosecutors argue that a district judge shouldn’t have dismissed the most serious charges against the teen, who had gathered weapons and detonated practice explosives before authorities arrested him in late April. LaDue told officers that he had planned to go on a killing spree within the next month.
The case raises questions about how far someone can go in planning a crime before being found criminally liable.
District Judge Gerald Wolf let stand six counts of possession of explosive devices against LaDue, but dismissed the most serious charges in July, saying prosecutors hadn’t shown that the boy’s actions went beyond “mere preparation.” The judge found that LaDue did not injure anyone, verbally or physically threaten, brandish or shoot a firearm toward his family or a school liaison officer, or transport materials to the locations in his plan. That made LaDue’s actions “remote to both the time and place of the intended crimes,” the judge ruled.
Officers found LaDue on April 29 with bomb-making materials after a citizen called police when she saw him suspiciously enter a storage locker. When authorities approached him, he told them of his plans to kill his parents and sister with a .22-caliber rifle and go to school with pressure-cooker bombs, firearms and ammunition, setting off explosions in the cafeteria, shooting the school liaison officer and killing students. They confiscated chemicals, several guns, ammunition and a few completed explosives, some at the locker and some at his home. They also found a notebook detailing the plan.
Prosecutors argued in court papers that the judge’s ruling to dismiss the attempt charges would require an offender to be “on the brink of committing the crime” in order to be liable. They argued that such an interpretation increases the risk of harm to the public and undermines “the preventive goal of attempt law.”
Prosecutors outlined nine actions LaDue took, including getting a job and a debit card so he would have money and means to buy bomb supplies, stockpiling firearms and ammunition, buying a pressure cooker and ball bearings, making and detonating explosive devices and obtaining the storage unit.
The defense pointed out that many planned preparations hadn’t yet been carried out, and LaDue had time to reconsider whether he ultimately wanted to go through with it. If his case hadn’t evoked horrific images of school attacks, “it is hard to imagine the State seeking to charge attempted first-degree murder on the facts here,” they wrote in court filings.
LaDue, who was 17 at the time of his arrest, is being housed in a youth facility in Willmar. His parents have stood by their son, saying they believe he never would have actually carried out the plan.
A three-judge panel is scheduled to hear arguments on the case starting at 11:15 a.m.