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Police say heart transplant teen plotted murder

  • Story Highlights
  • Police: Heart transplant teen planned to cut out possible victim's heart
  • Andrew Busskohl, 18, charged with two felony counts relating to broken window
  • Prosecutor stands by charges; neighbors upset teen not facing attempted murder
  • Defense attorney says teen's medication affected his thinking
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By Chris Welch and Wayne Drash
CNN
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WOODBURY, Minnesota (CNN) -- At 14, Andrew Busskohl got a second chance at life when he underwent a heart transplant. But four years later, neighbors have more fear than compassion for him.

Police say Andrew Busskohl plotted to kill a neighbor but was stopped before it got to that point.

Busskohl, 18, has been charged with two felony counts relating to a break-in attempt. But police say he was up to something more sinister: a murder plot that involved cutting out the victim's heart or slicing off his eyelids.

Busskohl posted $100,000 bail on condition he undergo psychological evaluation. He's living with his mother and brother in the same neighborhood where authorities say he had planned to carry out his attack.

As condition of his release, he is allowed to leave the Woodbury, Minnesota, home only for medical, psychological and legal appointments.

Defense attorney Joe Friedberg says that his client is a threat to no one and that his medications affected his mood.

"The Woodbury police are excited because they got something that's more serious than a cat up a tree," Friedberg said. "This is a very unique case, and frankly, I don't know the ramifications of anything yet."

Busskohl has been charged with one count of first-degree attempted burglary with a dangerous weapon and one count of aggravated harassment with a dangerous weapon.

He has not entered a plea in the case.

Busskohl's release has sent shockwaves through this quiet Minneapolis suburb of about 50,000 people. Residents say they survey their homes before entering, secure their windows and check behind curtains and other household items once inside. Once rarely used, alarm systems now are on constantly.

"My whole family is feeling a lot more nervous," said one neighbor, who asked not to be identified. "We're just always looking out the windows. ... The whole neighborhood in general is feeling the same way."

Tim Kinateder said that his alarm system is on "nonstop now" and that everyone in his family has taken extreme precautions around the home. He didn't mince his words when he spoke of Busskohl being out on bail.

"That, to me, is ridiculous. I don't understand how that can happen," Kinateder said.

Across the street, Jim Fratto has taken more security measures than most.

Fratto sleeps with a baseball bat next to his bed and a flashlight on his nightstand. A 10-foot-long 2 by 4 barricades his bedroom door. He's installed lights with motion sensors on the outside of his home and added locks on his doors, both inside and out. Video Tour Fratto's high-security house »

It is Fratto who, authorities say, was to be Busskohl's possible victim. He lives just a few blocks from Busskohl.

Walking through his home, Fratto shows off the locks on his interior doors. They rattle and clang with every movement.

"He's going to have to bang a little bit to get in at me. And hopefully, I'll be able to wake up by then," he said through a wild-eyed gaze and booming laugh.

"If not, sayonara."

Busskohl admits breaking a window of Fratto's home, police say, in the early hours of August 6. Although it may not sound like much on the surface, police now say it was the first step of the plot.

Busskohl was planning to return to that shattered window in the next couple of days for an easy entry, one without commotion, according to the criminal complaint filed against him.

The complaint says one of Busskohl's friends, Eric Eischens, went to police shortly after the window-breaking incident.

"Mr. Eischens stated that Mr. Busskohl told him that he had come up with a plan on how to murder someone," the complaint says. "Mr. Eischens stated that Mr. Busskohl wanted to find an adult male who lived by himself and within walking distance of the defendant's house."

Eischens is quoted in the complaint as also telling police that "Mr. Busskohl stated that he would then either stab the potential victim in the chest or slash his throat. Mr. Busskohl told Mr. Eischens that he would then either cut off the eyelids of the victim or cut out his heart."

The complaint alleges that Busskohl acknowledged to police his conversation with his friend but also told them, "I'm not even sure I would have gone through with it."

Friedberg, the defense attorney, said he could understand Fratto being "frightened or mad."

"The evidence I received, [Busskohl] discussed very openly these things with the police," Friedberg said. "When you said bizarre, that's probably an understatement."

Busskohl was taking seven or eight medications -- a combination of anti-rejection medicine for his heart and anti-depressants -- at the time of his arrest, according to Friedberg.

He said a doctor who evaluated him in jail recommended that he be taken off one medication and two others be substituted in its place.

"Within eight to 10 hours, the bizarre type of thinking he was undergoing was gone," Friedberg says. "If anybody were to meet him and talk to him at this point, he represents no threat to anyone."

He has advised his client not to talk with members of the media.

In 2004, Busskohl became a common face on local Minnesota media when he underwent a successful heart transplant. Shortly after the surgery, according to the Star Tribune newspaper, he showed off his scar to a reporter and said, "I plan on becoming a surgeon."

If convicted on the charges, Busskohl could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $17,500 for the first count and a maximum of 5 years and $10,000 fine for the second count. Busskohl has no prior arrests, and the prosecutor's office said that under the sentencing guidelines of Minnesota, it would be unlikely he'd serve more than 48 months if convicted.

His arraignment is set for September 3.

According to the criminal complaint filed this month, authorities obtained a search warrant for Busskohl's car and found a swim cap, black gloves, latex gloves, scrubs, gauze, an address card with Fratto's name and address, a map to Fratto's house, shoe covers, a pry bar, a black mask, two bags, one knife, two flashlights, one set of tweezers, two pairs of scissors and one scalpel.

Busskohl told authorities the items were there "if [he] somehow went through with the act," according to the complaint.

Fratto says it was difficult to grasp when police first informed him of the alleged plot.

"I didn't even look at it as a murder plot until they actually started putting it on the news," he said.

Standing in his backyard, he pointed into the air. "What bothers me is: If you throw a rock, he's about four blocks away."

Although many neighbors said they believe that a much more serious charge of attempted murder should have been pursued, the prosecutor stands by his decision.

Washington County attorney Doug Johnson said the two felony counts Busskohl faces are the only ones he could pursue under state law.

For a charge of attempted murder, he said, an individual has to follow through on an act "which is a substantial step toward, and more than preparation for, the commission of the crime."

"Now I'm not saying I'm happy with that [law]," Johnson said. "But if we have somebody that's just simply preparing to commit the crime and does not take a substantial step toward committing that crime, we can't charge an attempt. And that's what this is all about."

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As for Fratto, he'll still keep locking his doors, armed with his flashlight and baseball bat. He's thankful to still be alive.

"If it wasn't for his friend and the grace of God, that'd be it."

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