Friday, November 16, 2018

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Emotional testimony in McLaughlin murder trial
There was plenty of emotional eyewitness testimony at Jason McLaughlin's murder trial in St. Cloud on Thursday. McLaughlin faces first and second-degree murder charges for the shooting deaths of two students at Rocori High School in Cold Spring nearly two years ago. Teachers, students and even the parent of one of the victims took the stand and recounted what happened on the day of the shooting.

St. Cloud, Minn. — The first witness on the stand was so overcome with emotion, that the judge sent the court into recess for several minutes so she could recover. Back on the stand, Rocori gym teacher Mary Kelsey, recalled what happened on that September morning.

Kelsey was in the school basement getting ready for gym class when she heard a loud sound coming from down a hallway. She said it sounded like two styrofoam swimming boards being smacked together in a nearby pool. Then she heard the sound a second time.

As she walked down the hall, Aaron Rollins rounded the corner, clutching his chest. He said to Kelsey, "Help me I'm hurt, help me I'm shot." Rollins collapsed to the floor, remaining conscious for only a few seconds. Kelsey wasn't able to do much in the way of first aid, so she said she reassured him that help was on the way.

Aaron Rollin's father Tom, a member of Cold Spring's fire and rescue squad, also testified how he discovered that his son had been shot at Rocori. Rollins was one of the first people on scene after the shooting.

He ran to the gym where Seth Bartell lay bleeding from a head wound. After helping rescuers with Bartell, Rollins ran to the basement to help the other victim. He didn't realize it was his own son, bleeding on the basement floor, until he leaned down next to him. Rollins says he could tell by the way his son's eyes were fixed, that he was mortally wounded.

A few minutes later, Tom Rollins saw police take Jason McLaughlin away in handcuffs. Rollins testified that he told McLaughlin, "You'd better hope those boys are OK." Aaron Rollins died that day, Seth Bartell was in a coma for two weeks, before dying.

Prosecutors are laying out the time line of the school shooting to prove that Jason McLaughlin planned the death of Seth Bartell.

Two former classmates of McLaughlin's were questioned about how the teen acted before the shooting. Both said he was rather quiet, but was never talkative anyway. The students said in class that morning, McLaughlin asked them whether Seth Bartell was in school. He was also asking about a student named Cody Enstad, who wasn't in school that day. Enstad is listed as a potential witness in the murder trial.

The issue of teasing popped up in most of the testimony. Lawyers have consistently asked if McLaughlin was the victim of teasing or bullying. Many said that the teenager was teased, but not harshly and no more than other students. McLaughlin's lawyer has said Jason was bullied to the point of fatal violence, and that a mental illness clouded his judgement the day of the shootings.

More investigators will take the witness stand Friday. Attorneys on both sides of the case say ballistic results could pay a big role in this trial. They may show how far McLaughlin was from Bartell, when he shot him in the school gym. Prosecutors say it was a point-blank, execution-style shooting. McLaughlin's attorney says the boy only wanted to wound Bartell, and was aiming at his shoulder, from five to 15 feet away.

Also expected in the trial today is the story of Brittany Kelley, who says she received several e-mails from McLaughlin before the shooting.

Judge Michael Kirk has scheduled a site visit to Rocori High School on Friday afternoon. Kirk wants see where the shootings took place. McLaughlin, who's being tried as an adult, gave up his right to a jury trial, so the judge will decide if the teenager is guilty. If he is found guilty, his mental state will still be taken into consideration in a second phase of the trial, before sentencing.

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