Editorial: Waseca judge made wise rulingPublished 9:41am Monday, August 4, 2014
As much as it might go against the wishes of the court of public opinion, Waseca County District Judge Gerald Wolf did the right thing last week in the court of legal opinion when he threw out four charges of first-degree attempted murder against 17-year-old John LaDue, allowing six counts of possession of explosive devices to proceed.
Waseca County prosecutor Brenda Miller is appealing Wolf’s ruling, and meanwhile the justice process for the case is on hold, pending the appeal. LaDue is the Waseca teenager accused of plotting to kill his family and fellow students with firearms and homemade explosives.
LaDue made horrific plans. That’s true. But — obviously — he did not act on those plans or conspire to act with anyone on those plans. We all possess the freedom of speech and thought to conceive deadly and awful situations, even if it is for determining a worst-case scenario, as security experts might do. Many happy, normal teens draw war scenes, depict gore, doodle monsters and draft sinister scenarios. Neither prosecutors, police, judges nor fathers necessarily can determine whether LaDue exhibited intent to act on his plans, despite possession of explosives and guns and despite his conversations with police. Being lost in fascination with an idea does not mean LaDue would have been the next American schoolground villain.
From the outside of Waseca County, throwing the book at a disturbed 17-year-old appears like a political move to garner public support. Not noted in the statewide news reports about the dropped charges and subsequent appeal last week was that Miller hopes to win election as the county attorney this fall. The incumbent, Paul Dressler, plans to retire at the end of the year.
Prosecutorial discretion — getting the charges that fit the crime — should have been the order of the day. Let’s remember LaDue did not kill anyone. He did not try to kill anyone and fail. He did not fire a gun and miss or a light a fuse that didn’t function. Those acts would be attempted murder. Let’s all remember that the legal burden of proof for prosecutors to prove guilt is beyond a reasonable doubt.
Waseca Junior-Senior High School parent Michelle Johnson said it well when she spoke with Minnesota Public Radio. She said the case has been disturbing but not tragic and said she hopes LaDue gets the mental health treatment he needs.
We agree. He deserves to face punishment for possession of explosives, possibly as an adult if the court deems it, but without a doubt the troubled teen deserves help from the right mental health experts.