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Prosecutor says McLaughlin meant to kill; judge to rule Monday
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John J. McLaughlin faces first- and second-degree murder charges in the deaths of two students. (Stearns County)
Jason McLaughlin's fate now lies in the hands of a judge. In closing arguments Tuesday at the Rocori shooting trial, prosecuting attorneys described McLaughlin as boy who wanted to pump up his image. They claim that's one reason the teenager planned a school shooting that killed two fellow students in September of 2003. McLaughlin's attorney maintains the boy didn't intend to kill anyone that day, and is suffering from a mental illness. A judge is expected to make a ruling in the case next week.

St. Cloud, Minn. — Prosecuting attorney William Klumpp says Jason McLauglin planned the death of Seth Bartell days ahead of time, and completed his plan when he shot Bartell in the head in a school gym.

Klumpp says McLaughlin knew what he was doing when he smuggled a gun into school that day, shot Bartell in the back in a basement, chased him up some stairs and shot him again at close range. The assistant Minnesota attorney general says one reason for the shooting may have been that McLaughlin was jealous of Seth's popularity

Klumpp says it's as a given that a student who brings a gun to school in order to shoot a fellow student, is out to kill.

"We take a look at all the evidence whether it's circumstantial, direct evidence, eye witness testimony or just the common sense you use in evaluating that and our position is that evidence supports the fact that he intended to kill Seth Bartell and he premeditated the decision before he did it," accoding to Klumpp.

In order for McLaughlin to be found guilty of first-degree murder, the judge has to accept the prosecution's argument of premeditation and intent. First-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence.

McLaughlin has admitted the state has enough evidence to prove second-degree murder in the death of Aaron Rollins. Rollins died the day of the shooting, supposedly after a bullet meant for Seth Bartell hit him in the chest.

McLaughlin told investigators he only meant to wound Bartell by shooting him in the shoulder. Klumpp says that's hard to believe with the evidence that's been presented.

"He claims he shot Seth Bartell in the back of the shoulder, there's no eyewitness who corroborates any version of that and in fact Seth Bartell got shot in his forehead through his ball cap, and the forensic and eye witness testimony all supports that that was a shot at very close range, and certainly he couldn't have missed and certainly wasn't mistaking his back from his face," he said.

Klumpp says the look on McLaughlin's face after the shooting also showed the teenager had planned to kill that day. Klumpp quoted eyewitnesses, even friends of McLauglin's, who claim he had a smirk on his face after the shooting.

McLaughlin's attorney, Daniel Eller, says he believes the boy didn't intend to kill anyone. Eller says the most convincing piece of evidence they have is the videotaped statement he made to investigators after the shooting.

"He wasn't lying, there was no reason for him to lie and he told him wasn't lying. And he said 'I didn't intend to kill him and I didn't intend...there was no premeditation involved. What I intended to do was exactly what I started out to do, I was going to hurt him like he hurt me'," Eller said.

McLaughlin has said he was angry at Seth Bartell because of teasing. But Eller bristled at a reporter's suggestion that teasing had been a defense in this first portion of the trial.

"Teasing has nothing to do with this. Teasing was not a part of this defense. Teasing is coming up in the end. The only reason teasing came in at all was because they brought it up because they wanted to downplay it. Teasing is still a part of this case," according to Eller.

Eller says the issue of teasing will make its way into the next portion of the trial after the verdict. That's when the boy's mental health at the time of the shooting is taken into consideration. Eller claims teasing combined with an emerging mental illness drove Jason to take a gun to school. He still hopes the judge declares McLaughlin not guilty by reason of insanity. Barring that, he hopes Jason is found guilty of only second-degree murder in the shooting death of Seth Bartell.

Judge Michael Kirk says he'll consider the evidence and testimony from the trial carefully and announce a verdict next Monday.

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