ST. CLOUD, Minn. – A teen was found guilty of murder Monday in the shooting of two popular schoolmates, as a judge rejected his argument that he meant only to wound one boy.
John Jason McLaughlin (search) was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Seth Bartell (search), 14, and of second-degree murder in the death of Aaron Rollins (search), 17. The two were killed in September 2003 at Rocori High School (search) in Cold Spring.
Judge Michael Kirk heard the case without a jury. The trial wound up last week with closing arguments.
"This has been a long, difficult, sad case for everyone involved," Kirk said. "Sitting in this courtroom, it's been difficult not to be emotionally affected by the events of Sept. 24, 2003."
McLaughlin, tried as an adult, faces a life sentence. In the second phase of the trial, which was beginning a short time after the verdict was announced, Kirk was to hear defense arguments that McLaughlin was mentally ill and should be institutionalized instead of sent to prison.
The defense acknowledged that McLaughlin, now 16, was the shooter but said he only meant to wound Bartell, a fellow freshman, and did not mean to hurt Rollins, a senior, at all.
"The question is what he had in mind. ... He wanted to hurt Seth Bartell, just like Seth Bartell had hurt him. That was his plan, and that was his purpose," defense attorney Dan Eller said last week.
The prosecution agreed Rollins was an accidental victim but argued McLaughlin intended to kill Bartell, even smirking while he fired the gun.
"The defendant's actions speak louder than his words," Assistant Attorney General William Klumpp said in his closing argument Tuesday. "Everything the defendant did that day is consistent with intending to kill Seth Bartell. ... This simply wasn't two unfortunate accidents, like the defendant would have you believe."
McLaughlin was also convicted Monday of bringing a gun to school but was acquitted on a charge of second-degree assault for pointing a gun at a teacher who intervened and took him into custody.
Klumpp praised the verdicts.
"Obviously we wish Seth and Aaron were here, and this wouldn't be necessary, but ... we're glad the judge found Jason McLaughlin guilty," he said.
The boy shot and wounded Bartell in a school hallway, then fired another shot as Bartell fled that missed him and hit Rollins, authorities said. Prosecutors said McLaughlin then pursued Bartell up some stairs and into the school gym, where he shot him in the forehead. He died 16 days later.
The murder weapon, a .22-caliber pistol, belonged to McLaughlin's father, a Stearns County (search) sheriff's deputy. Kirk, a Clay County judge, was brought in to hear the case because of the father's job in county law enforcement.