Prosecutors push court to restore charges against Waseca teen

John LaDue makes court appearance.
Waseca Co. Sheriff deputies escort 17-year-old John LaDue into court, May 12, 2014.
Elizabeth Baier / MPR News file

Updated at 3:42 p.m. | Posted at 4 a.m.

The prosecutor who wants to charge a Waseca teenager with attempted murder as an adult for planning to attack his family and high school was closely questioned by an appeals court panel on Wednesday.

Waseca County authorities arrested John LaDue in April, when someone spotted him near a storage locker making what authorities say were preparations for the attack. Investigators later found a gun, ammunition, pipe bombs and gunpowder in a search of his home. They also found notes outlining his plans.

Prosecutors initially charged LaDue with four counts of attempted murder, possessing explosives and property damage. A Waseca County judge dismissed the murder charges against LaDue, now 18, saying the planning didn't amount to an attempt on his family.

Waseca County Attorney Brenda Miller appealed the judge's ruling, arguing that police reports indicate LaDue had taken concrete steps to kill, including hiding a gun in his room to kill his family if they learned of his plot.

The legal dispute hinges on what constitutes an attempt to launch the alleged attack.

"It has to not be remote in time and place from the intended crime. It has to be done with specific intent to commit the crime, an act done with that specific intent. What fits those three requirements here?" Senior Judge Terri Stoneburner asked Miller.

Another judge asked Miller about other theoretical crimes, trying to better define "attempt."

"The night he was arrested, he had brought all of his Molotov cocktail ingredients and supplies to the storage unit," Miller responded.

The prosecutor said the details showed elements of an attempt.

"Once he went beyond his home, once he went beyond the mere preparation, once he actually obtained the supplies, manufactured the bombs... anything beyond planning and actually doing an overt act," she said.

LaDue's attorney, Mark Nyvold, urged the appeals court panel to push prosecutors to explain how an attempted murder charge fits a crime that never occurred.

"Normally, when you've committed attempted murder against someone, they have an idea of what's happened," Nyvold suggested. He said the attack had not proceeded that far, because LaDue did not have the materials collected and the planned attack was still weeks away.

"The remoteness here is stunning," Nyvold argued.

The dismissed charges, if reinstated, would make LaDue likely to face trial as an adult and to spend time in prison if he were convicted. Otherwise, his case may stay in juvenile court.

He still faces explosive charges and prosecutors could seek to have him tried as an adult in a separate court action. Those actions have been put on hold pending the outcome of Miller's appeal -- which could go to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

LaDue's parents have said that they think authorities are pushing the case against their son too far.

"We're hoping it's an end to kind of a nightmare as far as the way everything has happened and with the amount of time that's transpired," his father, David LaDue, said Monday.

LaDue's attorney concedes his client is deeply troubled. In September, District Court Judge Gerald Wolf ordered LaDue to be transferred from a juvenile facility in Red Wing to the Prairie Lakes Youth Program's secure facilities in Willmar.

"When you read the diary, you can see he has some demons," Nyvold said. "What the state wants to do is take the specter of what could have happened, and say 'well, because this could have happened, not that he took a substantial step, we'd like to bring the sanction of attempted first degree murder against him.'"

The court is expected to rule by early April.

MPR News Reporter Elizabeth Baier contributed to this report.

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