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Man Who Conspired to Kill Dakota County Attorney Gets 16 Years

John Stephen Woodward, one-time neighbor of James Backstrom, attempted murder-for-hire.

Man Who Conspired to Kill Dakota County Attorney Gets 16 Years

John Stephen Woodward, convicted in December of conspiracy to murder Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, was sentenced Friday to 16 years in prison.

Woodward, who turned 50 today, was originally sent to jail in 2007 after an investigation by Backstrom that led to his conviction for felony drug crimes, including selling methamphetamine. According to a report in the Star-Tribune, he will have to serve at least two-thirds of his 16-year sentence before he is eligible for release.

As reported by Patch in December, 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.

  • Read more about the charges

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.

"As you might suspect, this crime has had a significant adverse impact upon me and my family," Backstrom said at Friday's hearing, according to the Star-Tribune report. "It has caused my wife and children to fear for my safety, and quite frankly, to fear for their own safety as well."

Backstrom told Judge Thomas Neuville, "It is important for the court to recognize that this crime was committed by a man who has never accepted responsibility for his own criminal behavior. He instead blames me ... for problems he brought upon himself through his own actions."

Annalise Backstrom, Backstrom's daughter, told the judge that she used to baby sit Woodward's children, and that The whole thing "still seems unreal to me ... the house I lived in for years will never feel completely comfortable again."

Woodward, however, continued to insist on his innocence, saying the plan to kill Backstrom was just so much talk: "People do a lot of talking in prison. I talked a lot of trash, but I've never hurt another person in my life."

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