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Jourdain pleads guilty in Red Lake shooting case

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Louis Jourdain, right, the 17-year-old son of Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr., left, in a 2004 family photo. (File photo)
The son of Red Lake Tribal Chairman Buck Jourdain has pleaded guilty to one charge related to the shootings last March at Red Lake High School. Ten people died that day. Two other charges against Louis Jourdain, 17, have been dropped, including a charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Louis Jourdain was best friends and cousins with 16-year-old Jeff Weise. On March 21, Weise shot and killed nine people on the northern Minnesota reservation before shooting himself. Jourdain was the only person arrested following the shootings. Because he's a juvenile, details of the charges against him have been kept secret, until now.

According to documents released Tuesday by a federal court in St. Paul, Jourdain admitted to a charge of "threatening interstate communications." The court document says both sides agreed that between January 2003 and March 2005, some of Jourdain's e-mails and text messages could be considered "threatening" by an objective observer.

Federal investigators discovered e-mail and text messages between Louis Jourdain and Red Lake school shooter Jeff Weise.

Chairman Buck Jourdain says authorities examined some 400 pages of text messages from his son that covered everything from girls, to music to video games. He says his son admits some of the on-line chatter might be perceived as threatening.

"Ultimately it was my son's decision to accept the responsibility for his wrongheaded and inappropriate use of the Internet, is what he's admitting to," he said.

Buck Jourdain says he thinks his son has been treated fairly, and he and his family are relieved the more serious charges have been dropped. Jourdain says his son accepts no responsibility for the deadly shootings.

"The charges of conspiracy have been dropped, so as far as I'm concerned there is no link between Louis and these victims, because it was Jeffrey Weise who committed these crimes on his own accord. And my son did not contribute to that horrible, horrible act that took place at Red Lake High School," he said.

Buck Jourdain says he hasn't been told what his son's sentence might be, or when sentencing will happen. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office says the law requires sentencing within 20 business days.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank has several options in sentencing Jourdain. The judge has wide discretion and could order Jourdain to make restitution, place him on probation and send him home, or detain him in a juvenile facility. Under the law, Frank could sentence Jourdain to a juvenile facility until Jourdain's 21st birthday, or the time he would have served as an adult for his crime, whichever sentence is shorter. In Jordain's case, that would be until he turns 21, because the adult sentence for threatening interstate communications is up to five years.

University of Minnesota law professor Barry Feld says it's important to remember that the juvenile system is based on rehabilitation. It's a system aimed at treatment and helping juveniles go on to lead productive lives. As as result, Feld says it's likely Jourdain could spend less than a year in a juvenile facility.

"Even if the judge imposes until age 21, juvenile sentences are indeterminate, which is to say they really do focus on a juvenile's progress towards rehabilitation and the youth could be released well prior to the 21st birthday," according to Feld.

The question is where might the court send Jourdain if he's sentenced to juvenile detention. There are only a handful of federal juvenile facilities in the U.S., because there so few juvenile cases in the federal system. It's also possible the judge could order Jourdain placed in a state juvenile facility.

Some family members of Red Lake shooting victims expressed disappointment in the plea agreement. Frances "Chunky" Brun is the father of Derrick Brun, the 28-year-old security guard who was the first to be killed at the school. Brun says he has mixed feelings about the deal. Brun says he's relieved it's over, but he's not sure justice has been served.

"Of course I'm going to be disappointed," he said. "My son is gone and eight others, including five potential leaders of our tribe, their lives were just snuffed out. And whether Louie was actually, would have participated in that is something I'll never know. Only he knows in his own mind just how much he participated or encouraged or tried to prevent Jeff from carrying out this horrendous murder."

Because the case was sealed from the public in juvenile court, there are a whole lot of details the public may never see. Brun and other victims' family members had hoped to have the legal proceedings against Jourdain opened to the public. Brun says he thinks the Justice Department should have tried Jourdain as an adult. Brun says he has a lot more questions that need to be answered.

"As long as I've got a breath in me I will try to find out more on just what actually took place. Just for the benefit of the people that died, I think that it's left up to us, that will speak out and demand answers to unanswered questions. Of course I'll continue to dig," he said.

Jourdain's trial had been expected to begin in mid-December. Chairman Buck Jourdain says his son is glad there won't be a trial. The chairman says he hopes that will help the Red Lake tribe move forward.

"Jeffrey Weise and what happened at the school is totally separate from the situation that my son is admitting to here," Jourdain said. "So hopefully there will be closure. Like I said this has been very painful. It's been an ongoing torment, a daily struggle for so many people who lost their loved ones, and for my family and the tribe in general. And it's held us back and it's prevented us from any closure and any healing."

While some expect the end of Jourdain's legal ordeal to help with healing, others worry it may create more divisions at Red Lake. Already, there's speculation on the reservation that the young Jourdain's case will become a political issue as the reservation prepares for elections next year. That raises questions about the political future of the tribal chairman.

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