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Cherrier threats trial gets underway

Nicholas H. Cherrier

A St. Croix County jury will decide this week whether a New Richmond teenager's comments represented a threat that put a business and a school district on high alert — or whether it was all a bad joke.

Attorneys on Monday, Sept. 17 laid out competing descriptions of how the events surrounding a March 29 comment by 19-year-old Nicholas Cherrier should be interpreted. The New Richmond man is charged in St. Croix County Circuit Court with one count of making terrorist threats, a felony to which he pleaded not guilty.

St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Ed Minser told the jury of seven men and five women that "context, common sense and capabilities" in the case would help render a guilty verdict.

He said he'll show how employees at the Norlake refrigeration production company in the town of Hudson were concerned about the demeanor Cherrier exhibited at the plant. Minser said coworkers became concerned after Cherrier, described as a loner at the workplace, would randomly approach people with "odd, difficult-to-understand" remarks that were sometimes threatening.

So when Cherrier allegedly told coworker Todd Emery that his recent purchase of hundreds of rounds of .22-caliber ammunition was "to shoot kids," the comment heightened existing concerns that he was dangerous.

"His demeanor did not give any indication that he was joking," Minser said.

The comment came about six weeks after the Parkland High School shooting in Florida, which the prosecutor said framed the context of the law enforcement response to Cherrier's remarks. Minser also described to the jury how the trunk of Cherrier's car was found with an AR-15 rifle, along with four loaded magazines — each holding 30 rounds — while the glove box contained two more loaded magazines.

A search of Cherrier's room turned up five more fully loaded magazines for the AR-15.

"There were lots and lots of rounds for this particular firearm" in his possession, Minser said, later adding how the situation led to heightened security protocol at New Richmond High School, where Cherrier had graduated in 2017, and permanent security changes at Norlake.

Defense attorney Mark Gherty laid out a different picture of his client.

He told the jury Cherrier neither threatened lives and bodily harm, nor did he intend to put a scare into others.

"This," Gherty said, "is a case that, the evidence will show, has taken on a life of its own."

He described how a post-arrest jailhouse conversation between Cherrier and Sheriff Scott Knudson revealed not just important details of his client's life, but it illustrated that authorities weren't dealing with the disturbed malcontent portrayed by prosecutors.

"It's a real folksy back-and-forth," Gherty said of the exchange between his client and the sheriff.

As for the comment in question about "shooting kids," Gherty said his client told an investigator that the phrase was "fed" to him by Emery: "What are you going to do — shoot kids?" Gherty said that was origin of the remark and that his client admitted during the exchange that it would be a bad course of action.

Even if accepted as prosecutors presented, the comment was simply "a stupid joke," Gherty said.

Emery and other Norlake employees testified in the trial's first day. Law enforcement and a New Richmond School District official were expected to be among those called during the trial, which was set to conclude Friday.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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