UPDATE: Judge resets Petersen's bail at $2 million after upgrade to first-degree murder charges
After a grand jury indictment this week, a Ramsey County District Court judge upped the bail for Ryan David Petersen to $2 million.
Bail was previously set at $1.5 million in the case.
Each of the last two days, Petersen appeared in court for his first appearance on the new charge. On May 12, his attorney didn’t appear in court and the case was postponed until today. Neither of two attorneys of record were available today, so a third attorney appeared on their behalf.
Last month, Petersen was originally 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.
Petersen, who is charged with punching a Woodbury police officer in the face, was dissatisfied with his representation. He fired his attorney via text message and demanded his money back. Petersen also talked to the lawyer, whose phone died during the conversation, possibly leading Petersen to believe the lawyer hung up on him, before allegedly showing up at the law office brandishing a brass-colored semiautomatic handgun.
According to court documents:
At 4:06 p.m. April 7, St. Paul police responded to North Star Criminal Defense, 370 Selby Ave., Suite 207, on a shooting. Two attorneys had just returned to the law office above the restaurant W.A. Frost and Co.
Passauer -- a law clerk, paralegal and receptionist -- had been shot three times in the left chest, and once each in the left shoulder, left arm, left lower abdomen and right abdomen. After a futile attempt to resuscitate Passauer, the law clerk was pronounced dead at 4:30 p.m. April 7.
Two of the seven .40-caliber bullets that killed Passauer and all of the shell casings at the murder scene matched a Smith and Wesson RP handgun and loaded magazine found in the water just off shore from Petersen's family cabin in Milltown, Wis., according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's presumptive determination. Five of the bullets at the crime scene were deformed or fragmented and therefore unsuitable for comparison. But one live round at his current St. Paul residence and his former Woodbury address matched the gun, as well as five casings spent April 3 at another location near Petersen's home on the East Side of St. Paul.
On April 7, Petersen called friends, talked about going away for a long time and "doing something bad."
One friend asked Petersen to meet him at a bar, but Petersen text messaged back: "No I just shot my lawyer." Petersen also sent a text containing a news clip about the shooting.
Shortly after the shooting, Petersen went to the home of his children in Woodbury (where he lived until January), told the kids he shot his lawyer, said goodbye to them, and said the was going to "where they spend the summers together."
He took the Chevy Yukon owned by his children's mother, and headed toward the family's two cabins. Police tracked Petersen on a path toward both cabins, one of which is in Milltown, but police lost his signal at the Wisconsin border.
A man matching Petersen's description was seen drinking a Corona at a bar near the Milltown cabin. He left with six bottles of beer.
At about 9 p.m., Petersen drove back into Minnesota and police began tracking him again. For 25 miles he led police on a slow-speed pursuit to Stillwater, where Petersen was taken into custody. Six Corona beers were located in the Yukon he was driving.
No gun nor any bloody clothing were found in the Yukon.
On May 6, the prosecution added one count of first-degree murder to the complaint, charges that carry a maximum penalty of life without possibility of release. Petersen appeared in court May 6 expecting to plead guilty to second-degree murder charges, but the plea was blocked.
Defense attorney Gary Wolf made a motion to enter a guilty plea, while prosecutor Rick Dusterhoft countered with the state’s motion to amend the complaint, seeking murder in the first degree.
Arguments ensued over whether the prosecution had time to bring the first-degree charges at all. The defense objected to not being allowed to plead guilty to the second-degree murder charge, arguing that Minnesota rules of court procedure had been violated.
But Judge Gary Bastian allowed the prosecution to amend the complaint, preventing Petersen from pleading guilty to the lesser charges and setting the stage for the grand jury to hear the prosecutor’s evidence, as well as witness testimony, and indict Petersen on the charge of first-degree murder.
State law says only a grand jury can indict for first-degree murder and other charges for which the penalty may be life in prison. The grand jury consists of 23 randomly selected Ramsey County residents who serve a six-month term. The panel meets on an as-needed basis when cases arise. To return an indictment, at least 12 members must agree. Minnesota law requires proceedings of the grand jury to be secret and unavailable to the public.
A May 20 hearing in Ramsey County District Court has been canceled, in lieu of Petersen's first appearance on the first-degree murder charge May 12.
Now that Petersen has been 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.