Jury finds Wrenshall man guiltyA Wrenshall man awaits sentencing next month on four counts of felony fifth-degree drug possession after being found guilty last week by a Carlton County jury.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
A Wrenshall man awaits sentencing next month on four counts of felony fifth-degree drug possession after being found guilty last week by a Carlton County jury.
Thomas Edwin Laubach, 57, was found guilty of all charges after a three-day trial in State District Court in Carlton County that ended Dec. 13.
The drug case against Laubach grew from a search of his home in connection with an investigation of his son, Jason Karl Laubach, 30, who was suspected in the September 2009 death of Carlton resident Joe Henry Derusha. An autopsy showed that Derusha had three drugs in his system when he died, one of them methadone. Authorities alleged that Jason Laubach sold Derusha the methadone several hours before his death. Charges of unintentional homicide were filed against Jason Laubach but dismissed in December 2009 because medical examiners couldn’t say with certainty which drug had caused Derusha’s death.
Drug possession charges against Thomas Laubach were filed in June 2011, after all evidence was returned from his son’s homicide investigation.
At last week’s trial, defense attorney Tom Skare told jurors that Laubach’s prosecution was “a case of the sins of the son being visited on the father.”
But prosecution witnesses testified and showed photographs of drugs and paraphernalia being found throughout the elder Laubach’s house, including in his bedroom.
Prosecution evidence included two bottles and a syringe containing trace amounts of methadone – all found on a table in the basement of Thomas Laubach’s home, according to authorities – as well as a scale with trace amounts of cocaine in Jason Laubach’s basement bedroom and a partially full syringe containing morphine in the upstairs bedroom of Thomas Laubach.
Carlton County Sheriff’s Office investigator Dan Danielson showed the jury more than two dozen photographs taken during the search showing drug paraphernalia, including glass pipes and a belt notched like a tourniquet. Danielson also testified that Laubach had a security camera mounted in his second-floor window facing the driveway and a monitor that would show who or what was approaching.
While only one of the illegal substances was found in Thomas Laubach’s bedroom, the other three items that tested positive for drugs were in plain sight, prosecuting attorney Michael Boese said.
Skare pointed out discrepancies in witness testimony, noting that not all the officers who testified recalled the exact layout of the house or which items were found exactly where. Skare also moved to have the case dismissed because the BCA employee in charge of evidence intake had not traveled to Carlton to testify – although the forensic scientist who tested the items did appear. His motion was denied.
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Testimony about the circumstances of Derusha’s death entered into Thomas Laubach’s trial as Derusha’s fiancée told about accompanying Derusha to Thomas Laubach’s home the night before he died.
Derusha’s fiancée testified that Derusha received a text message from Jason Laubach arranging a meeting at Thomas Laubach’s residence on Highway 23 in Wrenshall. After she and Derusha arrived, she said Derusha went into the residence and came back out with a plastic syringe containing a “pinkish-reddish” liquid, which she said Derusha told her at the time was methadone. She testified Wednesday that she’d only seen her boyfriend with Jason Laubach and that she’d never seen his father before.
Upon arriving back at their rural Carlton residence, Derusha reportedly went into the bathroom with the syringe and then went to bed. His fiancée said she awoke about 4 a.m. and, discovering Derusha unconscious, she called 911.
The following day, Sheriff’s Office investigators conducted a search of the Laubach residence at 2415 Highway 23, Wrenshall. During the search, reports said, officers found several plastic syringes very similar to the syringe Derusha had in his possession when he left Laubach’s residence the night before.
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When testimony ended, Judge Robert Macaulay instructed the jury that to convict Thomas Laubach of fifth-degree drug possession, the defendant must have known what the substance was and the drug possession must have happened on the day and place relating to the specific case. He also said that if the drugs were not found on the defendant’s person, he must have had exclusive control of the area or must have knowingly “exercised dominion or control” over [the place].
Skare argued that investigators should have conducted tests on more items.
“At the beginning, I told you this is a case of the sins of the son being visited on the father,” Skare said in his closing argument Thursday. “I told you it’s a case of injustice. The state is asking you to make certain inferences ... about residue on a spoon that could be gravy or an illegal substance ... a belt or a tourniquet.”
He questioned why the Sheriff’s Office hadn’t had Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension forensic scientists test the syringes and containers for fingerprints.
“Sometimes a case is like an igloo,” Boese told the jury in his closing argument after listing a number of drug-related items and where they were found that day. “You have blocks of ice. In and of themselves, they won’t provide shelter. If we have enough blocks, then we can get somewhere ...Yes, it’s legal to have a security camera, but I ask you to make a reasonable inference. With all the other evidence we have, the facts show that Thomas Laubach knowingly possessed [those drugs].”
The jury deliberated for nearly four hours before rendering its verdict of guilty on all four counts.
Boese said he was pleased that the jury took the issue of possession “of these types of drugs” seriously.
“I think it was the volume of drug evidence at the house,” Boese said. “I think the jury saw that there’s just no way a person could have that in his house and not either own it or at least understand that it was there.”
Laubach’s sentencing is set for Jan. 23.