John LaDue, the Waseca high school student who allegedly planned to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Columbine massacre with a homicidal rampage of his own, will have a hard time using an insanity defense if his case makes it to trial, Twin Cities lawyer, legal expert, and media personality Ron Rosenbaum says.
LaDue, 17, faces four counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree damage to property, and six counts of possession of a bomb by a minor. Authorities say he didn't hesitate to tell them about his plot after he was arrested in a storage locker strewn with bomb-making materials on Tuesday evening. (Read all about the allegations in this Daily Mail story.)
"Put yourself in the shoes of a defense attorney -- he's going to come in, take a look around, and he's got a kid who has already basically not only told the authorities what he did but almost bragged about it, and said what he was going to do in terms of threatening serious crimes against somebody at a juvenile facility," Rosenbaum tells us. "So this is not a situation where any defense attorney can defend this on the merits."
"But the problem with the insanity defense in Minnesota is it's virtually impossible to win. You have to prove that either the person doesn't know the difference between right and wrong or he doesn't know the nature of his act, [but] he already indicated he knew he wanted to kill people and use a diversion," Rosenbaum continues. "It doesn't seem to lend itself to a defense which is almost impossible under the best circumstances."
Though LaDue is a minor, Rosembaum says, "It's safe to say in this case there's no chance he won't be tried as an adult."
"It's because he's 17 and he's facing charges that are serious and could result in prison," Rosenbaum continued.
But how long might LaDue be locked up, assuming he's convicted?
"I don't know about the rest of his life, but he will serve many decades of prison time," Rosembaum replies. "Unless there were procedural problems with the confession, it's reasonable to assume he'll do a long time in prison. I can't imagine there being a defense here."
As for how LaDue can be charged with attempted murder when his murderous plot hadn't yet been put into action (aside from some explosives LaDue allegedly placed around the Hartley School playground in Waseca in late March), Rosenbaum says it has to do with how the statute defines making "a substantial step toward... commission of a crime."
"All the things he's done, including exploding devices in a school playground, gathering explosives in this facility and talking about it... it doesn't have to be like taking a shot at somebody and missing," Rosenbaum says.
All in all, it's not an enviable situation for LaDue's defense counsel, especially when contrasted with cases like the Byron Smith one.
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"It's really hard to imagine how to defend this case, as opposed to almost every other case you see," Rosenbaum says. "The Byron Smith case, in my opinion, was defensible, but not on the basis of self-defense. A lot of people thought it might've been defensible on the basis of arguing manslaughter, but it wasn't open and shut."
All of that being said, Rosenbaum adds, "There's almost always potential procedural issues with confessions."
"You could've had Miranda issues, or maybe you've got a juvenile who asked for an attorney and wasn't given one," Rosenbaum says. "But this doesn't appear to be that kind of situation. Some cases are really not defensible."
"As always, we only know what the authorities have told us, but assuming all those things are true, he's young and may have mental problems that may not have risen to the level of the insanity defense, but can be a mitigating factor in terms of the length of the sentence," he adds.