WASECA — A teen's alleged plot to detonate explosives in his Waseca high school was not enough to justify attempted murder and attempted first-degree damage to property charges, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled.
Not enough probable cause exists to support the charges filed against John David LaDue, 18, of Waseca, the ruling said.
Ladue's attorney, Dawn Johnson, said in an email Monday that she was "very pleased" with the decision.
The court upheld an earlier ruling issued by Waseca County District Court Judge Gerald Wolf that was appealed by prosecutors. He found the charges were not justified because LaDue had not taken a "substantial step" toward committing the crimes.
LaDue had not pointed a firearm or fired shots at victims, hadn't directly threatened anyone and "did not express any hatred or animosity toward the victims," Wolf's ruling said. He also hadn't moved any explosives into the high school, where he allegedly planned to detonate them.
LaDue, who was 17 at the time, has been incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility in Red Wing since his arrest on April 29, 2014. He is now 18 and is still facing felony charges of possessing explosive materials.
The ruling will impact a move by prosecutors to attempt to have LaDue's case moved to adult court, where he could face a more serious sentence if convicted for the remaining charges.
Johnson said the attempted murder charges created a legal situation where she had the burden of showing why the case should remain in juvenile court. The remaining charges create a situation where Waseca County Attorney Brenda Miller has the burden to show why it is in the public's best interest to move LaDue's case to adult court.
It's also possible that LaDue could be released from custody. An adult found guilty of the charges, with no previous criminal history, could expect to receive a stayed 21-month prison sentence and probation, Johnson said. Up to one year in jail could be considered as a condition of that probation. LaDue has been incarcerated for nearly a year.
"Due to the state's appeal of the district court's order, our client has been in custody for nearly a year now, where he has been meaningfully participating in all programming," Johnson said in an email Monday. "We are anxious to get back into court to litigate other legal issues with the remaining counts."
LaDue was arrested after a concerned citizen called 911 to report someone was possibly breaking into a storage unit in the city. Officers responding to the call found LaDue inside the unit with a large amount of potentially explosive materials. Firearms and a detailed plan to attack the school were allegedly found in LaDue's house when it was searched later.
The plan allegedly included killing his family, setting a fire outside of town to distract emergency workers, detonating explosives in the school and shooting students and teachers as they attempted to flea. Those plans alone — along with the explosives, firearms and ammunition that had been gathered — were not enough to justify the charges that were filed against LaDue in juvenile court, Monday's ruling said.
"When the officers found (LaDue) in the storage unit on April 29, he was still preparing for his plan," the Court of Appeals ruling said. "(LaDue) told the officers that he had two things to do before he was ready.
"While (LaDue) planned for at least nine months, he did not engage in anything more than preparation for the commission of the crimes. The law in Minnesota does not prohibit (Ladue's) conduct. We cannot invite speculation as to whether the acts would be carried out."
The Court of Appeals ruling was written by Court of Appeals Judge Renee Worke and decided with Judge Larry Stauber and now retired Judge Terri Stoneburner.
Miller did not respond to Free Press telephone calls or an email requesting comment.