Friday, August 23, 2019
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Graphic testimony in first day of McLaughlin trial
A courtroom packed with spectators heard graphic testimony Tuesday as opening arguments began in Jason McLaughlin's murder trial. The 16-year-old is accused of shooting two fellow students at Rocori High School in Cold Spring nearly two years ago. The prosecution claims the shootings were premeditated. And even though McLaughlin has admitted to the shootings, his lawyer maintains the teen didn't intend to kill anyone.

St. Cloud, Minn. — The trial began with opening statements. William Klump, who is prosecuting the case for the state attorney general's office, spoke at a lectern in front of the judge. Last week McLaughlin waived his right to a jury trial.

Klump said he hopes to prove Jason McLaughlin planned the murder of Seth Bartell, for weeks and maybe even months. He said Bartell may have teased the boy, but nothing that deserved murder as revenge.

Klump said McLaughlin carefully planned the timing of the shooting, even checking for metal detectors and cameras before he smuggled a loaded .22 pistol to school. He also said the manner in which Bartell was shot showed McLaughlin intended to kill the boy.

The prosecution says Bartell was shot point blank, execution-style in the forehead.

After the state's 45-minute opening statement, McLaughlin's attorney made the briefest of speeches.

Daniel Eller's two-minute opening statement essentially admitted the facts of the case as the prosecuting attorney had laid them out. But Eller said McLaughlin never intended to kill Seth Bartell -- saying McLaughlin just wanted to scare the fellow classmate for teasing him. He claims the shot to Bartell's head was intended to hit his shoulder and only wound him.

Aaron Rollins was also shot that day and died almost immediately. It's believed a stray bullet hit Rollins. McLaughlin's attorney said it was purely an accident. The prosecuting attorney raised some doubt about that, saying McLaughlin may have fired at other students to keep them at bay.

The afternoon was filled with graphic testimony and even more graphic autopsy photos. Family members of the victims struggled to keep their composure as photos of the two boys with gunshot wounds were projected on a huge screen.

After the proceedings ended for the day, Seth Bartell's mother said the testimony had crushed her. Kim Bartell was especially moved when prosecutors displayed a baseball cap her son was wearing when he was shot, with a bullet hole in the brim.

"Seth never left the house without that hat," Kim Bartell said. "If you saw a picture of Seth (it was) with the hat. The school pictures - they're not allowed to take hats along. He's actually the kind of kid that convinced the picture-taker to say, 'Hey I'm leaving my hat on, you're going to take it with my hat on.' So that hat brought back a lot of memories."

Some of the more disturbing images were on the mind of McLaughlin's attorney. Daniel Eller said since McLaughlin admits he shot the two boys, there was no need for it.

"We admitted to all the essential facts as far as Aaron Rollins," said Eller, "and we're willing to admit to all the essential facts except of pre-meditation and intent to as far as Seth Bartell. They didn't move the case ahead any quicker, or they didn't provide anything other than for the spectators."

Eller said he hopes to prove McLaughlin didn't set out to kill anyone when he brought a gun to school. Later Eller is expected to use mental illness as a defense for the murder charges.

Attorneys for the state refused comment after the day's adjournment. They say they expect to call up to 40 witnesses.

Testimony continues in the murder trial Wednesday. It's likely to last at least two weeks.