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Charges: Man shot law clerk after his attorney didn't respond to his text

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A St. Paul man is accused of fatally shooting a law clerk at a St. Paul law firm Thursday afternoon after he couldn't get in touch with his lawyer, according to charges filed Friday.

Ryan David Petersen, 37, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of 23-year-old Chase Passauer, who was working as a clerk at North Star Criminal Defense on Selby Avenue in St. Paul.

Passauer was shot six times in the stomach while he sat in his chair Thursday afternoon, charges say. Passauer started working at North Star Criminal Defense in May 2015, according to his LinkedIn page. His father, who described Passauer as a "great kid", told the Hastings Gazette he had plans to become a lawyer and was hoping to attend the University of Minnesota's law school.

A GoFundMe Page has been set up to help Passauer's family pay for expenses.

According to the criminal complaint:

Petersen was being represented by Daniel Adkins, an attorney at North Star Criminal Defense, after being charged in Washington County with fourth-degree assault on a peace officer and a DWI.

He was upset with the way Adkins was handling his case, and he had expressed that to Adkins.

On April 7, Petersen fired Adkins via text message. But Adkins was in court when Petersen sent the message and didn't respond, leading Petersen to believe he was being ignored.

When Adkins and his colleague James Gempeler returned to the law firm around 4 p.m. Thursday, they found Passauer dead in his chair.

He had been shot "approximately six times" in the stomach. Police found seven .40 caliber shell casings in the entry area of the office and around Passauer.

Around the same time, Petersen called his friends telling them he was about to go away for a long time after "doing something bad." He also texted one of his friends who asked him to meet him at the bar, saying "No I just shot my lawyer" and another text message that included a news clip about the shooting.

Shortly after the shooting, he said goodbye to his girlfriend and children, saying he was going to "where they spend the summers together" before leaving in his girlfriend's SUV.

Police used Petersen's cellphone to track him to the border of Wisconsin and back into Minnesota, where officers attempted to stop him on Highway 8. Petersen led police on a 25-mile pursuit into Stillwater, where he was taken into custody after 9 p.m.

Officers searched Petersen's home and his girlfriend's home, where they found a .40 caliber bullet at each place. The bullets were identical to the spent casings found at the scene of the crime.

Petersen declined to comment after he was arrested.

Petersen will make his first court appearance on Monday, where prosecutors will ask that bail be set at $1.5 million, a news release says. If convicted, Petersen faces up to 40 years in prison.

Anthony Bussa, an attorney who represented Petersen before Adkins took over, told the Hastings Gazette the shooting has shocked criminal defense attorneys in the Twin Cities, adding: "It’s crazy to think about. I never saw this coming in a million years."

Bussa added that Petersen "was just a client that really wanted answers readily" and he was worried about how the assault charge would affect his business, the paper says. The trail for those charges is scheduled to begin June 27, the criminal complaint says.

Petersen has a criminal history that dates back to 1997. He's been convicted in a drive-by shooting, criminal damage to property, fleeing police in a motor vehicle, third-degree controlled substance crime and carrying a firearm without a permit.

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