WASECA, MINN. – John LaDue walked out of the Waseca County courthouse on Tuesday free of probation, but with a felony officially on his record.
The Waseca teen who had planned a massacre at his school more than two years ago chose to forgo up to 10 years of voluntary probation for his crime in exchange for a felony conviction.
LaDue pleaded guilty last fall to one count of possessing an explosive device. Initially he agreed to the voluntary probation in an attempt to keep a felony conviction off his record. If he successfully met the terms of the probation, the felony would have been reduced to a misdemeanor.
But the host of probation conditions, along with a realization that having a felony on his record may not hurt his job prospects as much as he once feared, prompted him to reconsider, he said.
LaDue had already served all of the incarceration time for his crime — 640 days.
“He’s satisfied all his obligations to society,” his attorney, Jeff Johnson, said outside the courtroom after the hearing ended.
Johnson said LaDue came to realize that staying on probation wouldn’t be as beneficial as he initially thought.
“He’s realized that in this modern age, he wears a scarlet letter. All somebody has to do is go on Google, type in his name, and they know all about him,” Johnson said. “No matter how hard he works at this, no matter what he does, he will be viewed the same way.”
Now 19, LaDue has been living at his parents’ house since May under a host of probation conditions, including daily check-ins with a probation officer, weekly appointments with a mental health therapist, monthly appointments with a psychiatrist, monitored internet access, orders to stay away from certain friends and community service work.
Without a driver’s license (until recently) and reliable transportation, making the trip to Mankato for appointments has proved difficult, LaDue has said.
He also would have been required to submit to polygraph tests as directed, costing about $300 each time.
Probation obligations also would complicate his efforts to go to school for a career in pipe fitting, he said.
He also received a letter from Waseca schools notifying him of a no-trespassing order, describing how he is not allowed on school property, even for public events, for one year.
In April 2014, LaDue, then 17, was thrust into national attention when authorities held a news conference the day after he was arrested to announce they had found him with bomb-making materials and detailed plans to kill his family and commit a massacre at his school. He was caught after an alert resident saw him acting in a suspicious manner while entering a storage locker.
His case took more than a year to play out in the courts, and included decisions on whether to try him as an adult or a juvenile. Prosecutors filed attempted murder charges that the courts later dismissed after determining LaDue hadn’t taken steps substantial enough to warrant the charges.
Meanwhile, LaDue’s parents, despite being among the targets in his plot, have stood steadfastly behind him, saying they believe that he never would have carried out the attacks and needed help.
During the court proceedings, mental health experts testified that LaDue had been diagnosed with an unusual combination of autism spectrum disorder and a fixation on violence.
While authorities tried to find a place for him at a treatment facility he served his full incarceration sentence and then underwent a separate state evaluation while living under 24/7 supervision.
He returned home to his parents’ house after that evaluation determined he had suffered from depression, not autism, and was no longer depressed, making him a low risk for violence.
Waseca County attorney Brenda Miller said before the hearing that she has concerns about LaDue’s choice.
“You have someone who had a major incident involving mental health and is now going to discontinue all services,” she said. “I have serious concerns for public safety as well as for Mr. LaDue’s safety. … I wish him well, I wish his family well and I wish the community well.”
Several people from the community also have raised concerns on social media, some lambasting LaDue for his decision, others supporting him and pointing out that he’s already served his time.
LaDue himself responded in a few instances, at one point writing: “Not that I expect any [or at least most] of the readers to believe this, I don’t intend to reoffend in any matter. You’re not in danger being around me. If you feel uncomfortable being in the same town as me, then that is your burden.”
He wrote that he hasn’t had depressive symptoms for well over a year and if they recur, “I will certainly get it taken care of … whatever way I can.”
A father’s frustration
Meanwhile, LaDue’s father, David LaDue, expressing frustration over community reaction to his son choosing to end probation, mockingly posted a GoFundMe page Tuesday appealing to his son’s critics for financial help in moving the family “far out of Waseca County for the fearful ones among us, whom we feel so sorry for. ...
“This gives the community the opportunity to participate in our swift relocation, if that is what they truly desire. ...” he wrote. “This is YOUR chance to put your money where some of your mouths and hearts are!”
“I hope nobody contributes,” David LaDue said Tuesday evening. “I don’t want their money. I just kind of wanted to hold a mirror up to them.”