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McLaughlin pleads not guilty to school shootings
In a St. Cloud courtroom, Jason McLaughlin pleaded not guilty in the shooting deaths of two of his classmates last fall at Rocori High School in Cold Spring. The 16-year-old faces one charge of first degree murder and three charges of second degree murder. Family members of Aaron Rollins and Seth Bartell were also in the courtroom. They say dealing with the deaths has been hard, but the drawn out legal process has made it even harder.

St. Cloud, Minn. — Jason McGlaughlin just turned 16 last week. The teenager has been in a juvenile detention facility in Willmar since last September's shooting at Rocori High School.

He appeared in district court in St. Cloud, wearing a dark buttoned-down shirt, tucked into khaki pants, his brown hair cut very short. He's grown since his first public appearance in court last winter, his lawyer says he's put on 30 pounds while in custody.

McLaughlin spoke quietly with his attorney, Dan Eller, answering a few questions. Then Eller entered a not guilty plea on behalf of the teenager.

McLauglin's father, mother and sister sat behind him in the courtroom. A few feet away sat family members of Seth Bartell and Aaron Rollins, the two boys McLauglin is accused of killing.

Outside of the court building Kim Bartell, Seth Bartell's mother, says it was hard to sit in the same room with the McLauglins. Bartell says her emotions run from sympathy to anger.

"You know, everybody says that they've lost a son also," Bartell said. "Some days I feel that way, some days I don't. I feel like no they can visit their son, they can talk to their son, they can touch their son. I go to a graveyard and I visit my son."

It's still not clear whether or not Jason McLauglin will be tried as an adult. His lawyer is pushing to have the case tried in juvenile court. Daniel Eller says his client's case doesn't belong in adult court, and if he's convicted of the shooting, he doesn't belong in an adult prison.

Jason told the police officer that when he shot him, he didn't intend to kill him, he just wanted to hurt him. So it's a question of culpability, as to what degree he's actually guilty of.
- Daniel Eller, Jason McLaughlin's attorney

"The goal is to get this young boy into some sort of program for his age and what he's dealing with. That's the goal, and ST. Cloud Reformatory isn't that place," said Eller.

Eller says if the case stays in adult court, he'd consider a plea bargain, and would recommend McLauglin plead guilty to lesser charge. Eller maintains that while his client shot Aaron Rollins and Seth Bartell, murder was not the intention.

"There's no question he shot these two boys," Eller said. "The grand jury came back and found that the Rollins boy was shot accidentally. And as far as Seth Bartell, Jason told the police officer that when he shot him he didn't intend to kill him, he just wanted to hurt him. So it's a question of culpability, as to what degree he's actually guilty of," Eller said.

Eller outlined a few new details about the motivation behind the shooting. He claims teasing had a lot to do with what happened, something that's been speculated since last September.

"There was no question there was teasing going on, and Jason told the police officers from the very beginning that he was being teased by Seth Bartell," Eller said. "Then the question is, what was actually being said an the extent of the teasing."

But Eller says it wasn't teasing alone that led up to the shooting. He says McLauglin suffered from an emerging mental illness at the time of the shooting. In court hearings since, Eller says psychologists have testified that McLauglin is schizophrenic.

Eller says McGlaughlin's mental state played a role in his violent reaction.

The families of Seth Bartell and Aaron Rollins don't buy that. Kim Bartell says McLauglin's actions on Sept. 24, 2003, showed he intended to kill her son.

"He definitely thought this out," Bartell said. "And planned it and did it. I think that a mentally ill person would act on their feelings instead of on a conscious decision like that. So I think it's kind of bogus."

Bartell says it was hard losing her son, but the many court hearings are making it harder. Feb. 1, 2005 is the tentative date for a trial. Both sides agree that's likely to get pushed back by appeals. It could be well into next year before Jason McLauglin stands trial.

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