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Ely teen guilty of attempted murder for stabbing brother, leaving him in ravine

Michael Haapala faces an adult prison term for the October 2020 incident that nearly killed the 13-year-old.

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VIRGINIA — An Ely teen who stabbed his 13-year-old brother more than a dozen times and left him for dead in a ravine has been found guilty of an adult-level attempted murder charge.

Judge Robert Friday on Tuesday convicted Michael William Haapala in the October 2020 incident near Miners Lake.

Michael William Haapala.jpg
Michael William Haapala

Authorities said there was "no apparent reason" why Haapala, then 16, lured his younger brother into the woods and stabbed him at least 13 times before dragging the boy to a concealed area near the water on a chilly morning. Haapala reportedly returned to the scene hours later and again left the victim to bleed out.

The 13-year-old, who was eventually discovered by passing hikers, suffered injuries to his neck, legs, arms, chest and hand, and underwent surgery during a two-week hospital stay, according to court documents.

Haapala was initially charged in juvenile court, but the St. Louis County Attorney's Office successfully petitioned to have him certified as an adult in December 2021. Defense attorney Lara Whiteside challenged the move and raised a mental illness defense.

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Haapala, now 18, was scheduled for a jury trial last week. But he opted against a contested proceeding, reaching an agreement with prosecutor Leah Stauber to submit the case to Friday based on 124 stipulated exhibits, including police reports and physical evidence.

Friday issued only a general finding of guilt to the sole count of attempted intentional second-degree murder; he has another week to issue a memorandum explaining his verdict. A sentencing date is expected to be scheduled in the coming months.

According to court documents:

Haapala invited his brother on a walk around 2 a.m. Oct. 8, 2020, and brought him into the woods. He produced a large kitchen knife and began stabbing the victim before dragging him closer to the lake.

The 13-year-old later told authorities that he knew of no reason why his brother had stabbed him and, when asked, Haapala responded that he "wanted to see a dead body."

A 17-year-old who allegedly tried to kill his brother last year has been diagnosed with a number of potential mental health issues, but a judge said keeping the case in juvenile court would prevent the needed long-term supervision.

Haapala then went home and washed the knife and his clothes before hiding the weapon in a bedroom closet. He returned to the crime scene hours later, finding his seriously wounded brother and stating: "You're still alive, huh?"

The victim, who suffered a throat injury that prevented him from calling out for help, only survived because he was discovered by some passing hikers roughly 12 hours after the attack. Haapala admitted in an interview to stabbing his brother "more than one time" and said he knew the victim would probably bleed to death.

Haapala, who had no prior juvenile court history, was subsequently examined by at least five doctors and committed to the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center. He was given a number of varying diagnoses involving depression, anxiety and possible schizoaffective disorder.

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Whiteside argued to keep the case in juvenile court, saying Haapala could receive better treatment services in a juvenile correctional facility. But Judge Michelle Anderson sided with Stauber, citing evidence of a "level of sophisticated planning" and noting that the juvenile court would lose jurisdiction upon his 21st birthday.

"Two or three years under juvenile court jurisdiction for the offense of attempted murder does not square," Anderson wrote in the 2021 certification order. "Respondent nearly took his brother's life, and two or three years is not long enough to adequately assure that he doesn't present a danger to the public."

Now convicted as an adult, Haapala is expected to face a presumptive prison term in excess of 12 years under state sentencing guidelines. He remains at the St. Louis County Jail.

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Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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