A Rice County jury of 12 on Friday found John Stephen Woodward guilty of conspiracy to commit premeditated first-degree murder of Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom.
Woodward was charged by the Rice County Attorney’s Office after Minnesota Correction Facility—Faribault officials uncovered the plot to kill Backstrom.
Woodward had been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit premeditated first-degree murder: one charge for Backstrom and the other for Dakota County Judge Rex Stacey. Rice County Judge Thomas Neuville dismissed the count regarding Stacey earlier this week because of lack of evidence.
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Woodward was sentenced to seven years and 10 months in prison on the drug charge, in which he sold methamphetamine from his Inver Grove Heights home. His next-door neighbor was Backstrom, whom Woodward believed had set him up by working with the Dakota County Drug Task Force, according to the criminal complaint against him.
In 2010, prosecutors say, Woodward became friendly with Thomas Ray Jackson, another inmate in the MCF—Faribault, and offered to pay him $10,000 to murder Backstrom when he was released from prison in December 2010. The two men worked out together, and Woodward had helped Jackson file ethics complaints against Backstrom, according to the complaint.
Woodward was also charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree assault-great bodily harm against a witness in his 2007 Dakota County criminal case. The jury found Woodward not guilty of that charge.
Rice County Attorney G Paul Beaumaster and Assistant Rice County Attorney Benjamin Bejar prosecuted this case. Ira Whitlock was the defense attorney.
“The jury evaluated the evidence and found a fair and just conclusion that John Woodward was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Truth and justice has prevailed," Beaumaster said.
Woodward was scheduled to be released from prison next May on the drug conviction. He faces up to 20 years in prison for the conspiracy to commit premeditated first-degree murder conviction.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 18, 2013.