Prosecutor calls grand jury to consider indicting Woodbury man for first-degree murder
WOODBURY, Minn. -- Change of plans. The Ramsey County Attorney's Office has called a grand jury to meet during the next 14 days to consider indicting Ryan David Petersen on first-degree murder charges. Last month, the Woodbury resident was charge...
WOODBURY, Minn. -- Change of plans.
The Ramsey County Attorney's Office has called a grand jury to meet during the next 14 days to consider indicting Ryan David Petersen on first-degree murder charges.
Last month, the Woodbury resident was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Hastings native Chase Passauer, a law clerk at a firm in St. Paul's Cathedral Hill neighborhood. It appeared Petersen would face a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
Today, the prosecution added one count of first-degree murder to the complaint, charges that carry a life sentence as the maximum penalty.
Petersen appeared in Ramsey County District Court today expecting to plead guilty to second-degree murder charges, but the plea was blocked.
"This doesn't happen very often," said Dennis Gerhardstein, public information officer for the Ramsey County Attorney's Office.
Defense attorney Gary Wolf made a motion to enter a guilty plea.
After speaking to the witnesses in the case, prosecutor Rick Dusterhoft countered with the state's motion to amend the complaint, seeking murder in the first degree.
While the attorneys for both sides had predicted today's hearing would be a 2-minute-long hearing consisting of boilerplate procedure, including the requirement to make a plea, it turned into an argument over whether the prosecution had time to bring the first-degree charges at all.
In the end, District Court Judge Gary Bastian allowed the prosecution to amend the complaint, setting the stage for a 14-day window during which the Ramsey County Grand Jury must hear the prosecutor's evidence, as well as witness testimony, and determine whether there is probable cause to indict Petersen for first-degree murder.
Per Minnesota law, only a grand jury can indict for first-degree murder and other charges for which the penalty may be life in prison.
As the prosecutor makes arguments to the grand jury about premeditation in Petersen's case, the proceedings remain private.
A May 20 hearing is tentatively scheduled in Ramsey County District Court. That's in case a grand jury fails to indict, which would effectively leave one count of second-degree murder on the table.
Today, confusion ensued when the prosecution made its motion to amend the complaint.
The defense objected to not being allowed to plead guilty to the second-degree murder charges, arguing that Minnesota rules of court procedure had been violated.
Petersen's first court appearance was April 11, and Ramsey County typically combines the first and second appearances by a defendant waiving his right to a second appearance. But Petersen didn't waive his right to a second appearance, which would've given the prosecution until only April 25 to charge him with first-degree murder.
The prosecution argued that today's hearing was Petersen's second appearance and that the clock started running today on the prosecution's notification of its intent to call a grand jury. Thus the amended complaint was allowed and Petersen was prevented from pleading guilty to the lesser charges.
The grand jury hears arguments from only the prosecutor, then decide whether to indict. It's conceivable that the next hearing could occur the day after a grand jury returns an indictment.
Should Petersen be indicted, the defense is likely to make a motion to dismiss the first-degree murder charges.
The defense also has left open the possibility of appealing to a higher court before a jury trial might ensue in Petersen's case.