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Order rescinded regarding Johnson's facility placement

WORTHINGTON -- The man charged with terroristic threat for writing a letter threatening to kill a Fifth District Court Judge was ultimately ordered to stay in jail on Thursday after the state asked Judge David Christensen to rescind an order send...

WORTHINGTON -- The man charged with terroristic threat for writing a letter threatening to kill a Fifth District Court Judge was ultimately ordered to stay in jail on Thursday after the state asked Judge David Christensen to rescind an order sending the man back to his living facility in Atwater.

Matthew Lee Johnson, 21, was in Nobles County District Court for a hearing regarding two motions put forth by the state -- one asking for a Rule 20 psychiatric evaluation and the other requesting modification of Johnson's conditions of release. During the hearing, Johnson argued with Judge Christensen via interactive television, telling the judge if he was sent back to a facility in Atwater, he would break rules as soon as possible, so he would be sent back to jail.

Clothed in the bright orange uniform of the Nobles County Jail and bearing leg shackles and handcuffs, Johnson chatted nonchalantly with everyone in the room before the hearing began. He listened intently as the session started.

"We are asking the court to eliminate the bond requirements and release the defendant to the care and supervision of Crow's Nest," Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore said to Judge Christensen via ITV. "His placement could be jeopardized if he is absent more than 14 calendar days, and Crow's Nest has guidelines they will adhere to regarding Matthew's care."

Moore went on to say the state felt it would be in the defendant's best interest to be in the semi-independent living facility where more programming is available, rather than in the county jail.

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"The public safety concerns would be handled by Crow's Nest," he explained. "They are willing to transport him back there today."

Defense attorney John Scholl said he had no objection to the Rule 20 evaluation, but argued his client did not want to accept the new conditions and would rather post bail or stay in jail.

"He wished me to oppose, and does not accept the conditions in the state's motion," Scholl said. "It seems to me a person has the right to say they will not accept the conditions of release."

Johnson spoke for himself, telling the judge he refused to cooperate with the Crow's Nest guidelines and wished to have the $20,000 bond left intact.

"I have been abused at Crow's Nest, physically and emotionally," he said.

Moore said later that day he was not aware of any reports of abuse or neglect submitted by Johnson against Crow's Nest and questioned the validity of the statement.

The judge ordered the Rule 20 evaluation to proceed. This is a mental examination to determine whether a defendant has the capacity to understand the charges and the ability to assist in his or her lawyer. The process will evaluate Johnson's competency and behavior at the time he wrote the threatening letter.

Judge Christensen ruled the bail amount be left in effect, and initially said until bond could be posted Johnson would be sent back to the facility in Atwater.

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"I will break the rules," Johnson said immediately. "I will not stay at Crow's Nest."

"Then I suspect we will be back here soon," Judge Christensen replied.

"I must go back?" Johnson asked, and was told he would go back to Crow's Nest unless the guidelines were broken.

"That will happen as soon as I get back," Johnson said, interrupting the judge. "You might as well just hold me here. I will violate the rules as soon as I can."

"That will be all," the judge said, and two uniformed guards from the Nobles County Jail stepped forward to reach Johnson.

"You might as well expect me back," Johnson continued as he was led from the courtroom. "I will follow through with what I intended with (the judge I threatened)."

Later that afternoon, at the request of the state, Judge Christensen rescinded the order to send Johnson back to Crow's Nest because of statements Johnson continued to make after the court hearing.

"He stays in jail," Moore said. "Based on the statements that Mr. Johnson made after the court hearing, we asked judge to rescind the order. We no longer believe public safety would be well served by having him back at Crow's Nest."

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Moore admitted that Johnson's behavior after the hearing caused the state to do an "about face" regarding Johnson's placement at Crow's Nest. The state is evaluating new threats made by Johnson and expediting the process to get him evaluated at the treatment center in St. Peter.

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