WASECA, MINN. – John LaDue, the teen arrested nearly two years ago for plotting a massacre at his school, could go home as soon as next week if authorities can’t find a spot for him at a state-operated treatment evaluation facility.
While his return home probably would last only until a facility bed opens, a judge said Wednesday that authorities can’t incarcerate the 19-year-old beyond Jan. 28.
On that date, LaDue will have served his entire felony sentence for possessing an explosive device and can no longer be jailed, the judge explained during a hearing in Waseca County District Court.
As part of his plea last fall, LaDue had agreed to up to 10 years of probation, including an unspecified a;mount of treatment in a secure facility for his unusual combination of autism spectrum disorder and fixation on violence.
But as the legal process wore on and authorities had difficulty finding an appropriate place to send him — their plans to place him at a Georgia facility fell through last month — they have been working against the deadline of his sentence ending.
If a bed in a state facility opens before his sentence is over, he will go there. But if it doesn’t, officials are preparing to send LaDue home under probation until a bed becomes available — “what we hope is a short period of time,” Judge Joseph Chase said.
Chase said he will issue a court order this week to try to speed up placement in one of approximately a dozen such beds in the state. He also said he anticipated the arrangement might upset people in Waseca.
“I’m not very satisfied with it myself,” he said. But, he added, he is asking the public to understand and “behave in a manner that doesn’t exacerbate the situation. … We’ll get through this.”
After his sentence is finished, LaDue could legally forgo probation, officials said. But if he complies with the probation he agreed upon, a misdemeanor will be put on his record instead of a felony.
Typically, inmates who behave well serve only two-thirds of a sentence and spend the rest outside on supervised release. LaDue will have served his entire sentence but is agreeing to probation.
“It’s his wish at this time … to get help,” Chase said.
If LaDue goes home, his parents have agreed to remove any firearms from the house and deny him Web access. LaDue also could not leave the house except for authorized appointments.
Some time to talk
Police found LaDue in a Waseca storage locker in April 2014 after a citizen saw him enter it suspiciously. He told authorities of his plans to shoot his family, set a fire in the countryside to distract emergency officials, and go to school with pressure-cooker bombs and guns to kill as many people as he could.
Authorities who searched the locker and the boy’s bedroom had said they confiscated chemicals, several guns, ammunition and a few completed explosives. Officers concluded that he intended to carry out the massacre within a week or two.
The case has raised questions about what to do with the teen, who had plotted but never hurt anyone. His parents have said they believe he never would have carried out the plan.
LaDue’s father said Wednesday evening that he and his wife were excited at the prospect of their son returning home.
“We still have his guitars here and he’ll have his cat here,” David LaDue said. “I’ll probably offer, if he wants to, to look at the basket of cards and letters we’ve received. … We’ll have plenty of time to talk. We just want to have some peace and quiet. We’ll just be glad that he’s not being held in jail, being isolated. We thank God very much for that.”
Though he knows any stay would be temporary, David LaDue said he thinks it would be good for his son to get a break from the system before he continues on with therapy.
“I know John has no interest in causing any problems. He wants this to be a misdemeanor,” David LaDue said.
While his parents were pleased, the news left some in =this southern Minnesota town of 9,300 a bit uneasy.
The possibility was “very much a surprise,” said former Mayor Roy Srp. “My personal feeling is we have to respect the judicial system, and if that is what the judge determined, then that is what we have to live by.
“Now, it doesn’t mean I like it.”
Srp said he hopes the community reacts with goodness, and “that Waseca can remain the peaceful community that it is.”
The Rev. Chris Meirose of First Congregational Church called it a “no-win situation.” The teen, the judge and the community all want him to get treatment, he said, but “there’s nowhere to get him the treatment … today.”
Meirose said that perhaps a return home will help LaDue: “He’ll get time with his family, and maybe that will be good for him..”
Public safety concerns
The case against LaDue ended in sharp contrast to how it began. Prosecutors initially charged him as a juvenile with four counts of attempted murder, two counts of attempted first-degree damage to property and six counts of possession of a bomb by someone under 18. But the attempted-murder and attempted-property-damage charges were dismissed, with a state Appeals Court panel affirming that it could not “invite speculation as to whether the acts would be carried out.”
He eventually pleaded guilty in adult court to just one felony explosive possession charge, with prosecutors agreeing to drop the other five.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Waseca County Attorney Brenda Miller echoed the judge’s sentiments, noting that a probation officer will be checking in with John LaDue. She said she specifically asked that he remain inside the house because she wants him to keep a low profile.
She cautioned people to call law enforcement if they have concerns.
“The last thing I want to do is to have to charge somebody for going after the LaDues,” she said.
The plan to send him home if necessary comes because “we just don’t have any time,” Miller said.
“The other option is, we release him and he goes wherever he wants,” she added. “I don’t think the public wants that, either..”
Staff writer Jenna Ross contributed to this report.