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Inmate is guilty of conspiracy to murder attorney

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Hastings Star Gazette
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Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

An inmate at the Minnesota Correctional Facility now serving a sentence in Faribault will be sentenced Jan. 16 after being convicted of conspiracy to murder Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. Jurors reached a verdict Friday, Dec. 7, in the trial of John Stephen Woodward, 49. The jury found Woodward not guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree assault against a witness in Woodward's Dakota County criminal case in 2007.

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Originally, Woodward had been charged in 2010 with two counts of conspiracy to commit premeditated first-degree murder. The second charge was for a plan against Dakota County District Judge Rex Stacy, who had presided in the Dakota County case. That charge was dismissed by the judge.

According to the complaint, investigators learned that Woodward hired and agreed to pay money to another inmate, identified as Thomas Ray Jackson, to murder Backstrom and Stacey, and to inflict great bodily harm against another individual who testified against Woodward at that trial held in Dakota County.

Woodward was convicted of that crime in September 2007 and is currently serving a sentence for the conviction.

In June 2010, Jackson apparently told an investigator about Woodward's murder-for-hire scheme. The Faribault Police Department was also contacted at that time.

The investigation indicated that Woodward had solicited and agreed to pay Jackson $10,000 to murder Backstrom; the murder was to occur in December. Woodward and Jackson talked and walked together while in prison and had several hours of discussion about Backstrom and Woodward's belief that "Backstrom had set up Woodward using the Dakota County Drug Task Force."

The complaint also indicated that at one time Woodward and Backstrom were friends, and that Woodward had done some catering for Backstrom.

When Jackson apparently asked Woodward how serious he was, Woodward arranged to provide a payment of $2,500 as down payment to show some "good faith." The crime was to occur the day Jackson was released from prison.

When Jackson was asked why he was providing this information to investigators, Jackson said, "If I don't do it, will he get someone else to do it? Someone was going to get killed."

Investigators also equipped Jackson with a concealed recording device before a planned meeting between Jackson and Woodward. That tape provided additional details about the planned crime.

Woodward's defense attorney maintained that Woodward's discussion with Jackson was just talk among inmates and that there was no plot.

The Faribault Police Department, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Dakota County Sheriff's Department and the Office of Special Investigations of the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault conducted the criminal investigation.

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Jane Lightbourn
(651) 319-4503
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