By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
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By Michelle LeBow
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By CP Staff
"I love you, too," Johnson replied.
Melissa Laue lives in a Faribault public housing unit with her nine-year-old son, another child Duane didn't want.
Seated in a cramped living room across from a mantle displaying family photos, Laue recalls her short fling with Duane.
She logged onto Yahoo! chat in the summer of 2002 in search of a good time. Laue, then 17, found 21-year-old Clark. Soon, they agreed to meet for a hookup.
But when she got pregnant, Duane wasn't happy.
"He told me that he wanted me to have an abortion," Laue says. "I told him I didn't believe in that so that's the way it was going to be."
Duane never showed up to her doctor's appointments, and didn't come to the hospital when the baby was born. "He didn't care, clearly," Laue says.
When Laue asked about Duane's parents so she could let them know they had a grandson, Duane told her they were dead.
After a court ordered him to pay child support, Duane ponied up. But in the summer of 2004, he claimed he could no longer afford to fulfill his parental duties to Hunter.
"I at this time have lost my job and can't find another one, so I can't afford the support anymore," Duane wrote in a letter to Laue. "As well when I was working I did not have the money for my family and I to have any health or dental plan, because I have been paying the support."
In 2004, Duane had two children with Tiffany. He requested a meeting with Laue alone. When they got together, he offered her a lump sum payment of $30,000 to get out of his life forever, with another $30,000 to come later. She refused.
"I didn't mean to sound like a gold digger but by the time Hunter was 18, I could get more out of him than $60,000," Laue explains. "I always told him in the beginning that's not what I wanted. I wanted Hunter to have a father."
Although Duane hasn't played much of a role in their child's life, he kept paying Laue child support until the checks suddenly stopped in January. But Laue says Duane threatened both her life and Hunter's a few years ago as they discussed child support payments.
"I pissed him off so he told me he was going to kill Hunter and I," Laue says. "So of course I panicked, called the cops, and he said the only reason he did it was I made him mad."
Her story is substantiated by Goodhue County Sheriff's Department records, which record the domestic dispute happening in September 2004. Laue declined to press charges.
"I said this is the first time this had ever happened but I said that if it did happen again, I would," Laue explains.
When the cops confronted Duane, he admitted saying that he wished Laue was dead.
"Clark stated they were harsh words but at the time he was upset," the report notes. "Clark stated he regrets said words."
Police requested murder charges against Duane and Tiffany Clark, which the Hennepin County Attorney's Office declined to prosecute, an announcement County Attorney Mike Freeman made in a brief statement about what was termed the "Crystal baby remains case."
Freeman noted that there were conflicting stories of whether the baby was born alive in the Clarks' home. Freeman praised the Crystal Police Department's "excellent investigation," but said there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute.
Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker rarely ventures out to the scene of a crime, maybe a handful of times per year, he says, but he visited the clandestine grave in Crystal.
"Clearly, this was not an everyday call into the medical examiner's office," Baker says.
Baker declines to discuss specific details surrounding the case, citing state privacy laws, but confirms that he listed the baby's cause of death as unknown. That determination doomed the case for prosecutors.
"Was this baby murdered? In order to be murdered, you have to be born alive," Freeman says. "Trying to tell about whether or not a child was alive when it was born after it's been buried three years is nearly impossible."
Freeman declined to discuss specifics or allow his prosecutor, Cheri Townsend, to discuss more details. "We send a written decline to the victim and the police agency," Freeman said. "We do not release that ourselves nor comment on it."
City Pages obtained a copy of the confidential document from Crystal police.
In it, Townsend thanks the Crystal Police Department for "submitting this important and challenging case" before passing on prosecuting it.
Despite the best efforts of the police, Townsend said, there was not enough evidence to corroborate either version of events. But Townsend's analysis contains questionable assertions.
For instance, Townsend notes Clark's first story to police: that the baby was stillborn in the bathroom and he buried it without telling anyone. Townsend claims Duane "repeated this story to several people immediately prior to telling police."
In reality, Duane told Kalina Rasmussen one story and Trisha Jean Johnson another story on the day he turned himself in to police. Sandy Swanson, Tiffany Clark's mother, also received a phone call from Duane sometime before he walked into the police station, where he allegedly said there were two babies buried at the home. (That turned out to be false.)