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Judge: Northern Minnesota murder confession valid

DULUTH -- A Grand Rapids man charged in a 2017 Hibbing homicide case "knowingly, willingly and voluntarily" provided a confession to law enforcement, a judge said.

Benjamin David Lundquist
Benjamin David Lundquist
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DULUTH - A Grand Rapids man charged in a 2017 Hibbing homicide case "knowingly, willingly and voluntarily" provided a confession to law enforcement, a judge said.

Judge Mark Starr on Friday denied a motion to suppress statements made by Benjamin David Lundquist in the investigation of the stabbing and beating death of 54-year-old Joel Dean Gangness.

Defense attorney Mark Groettum contended that the confession was obtained in violation of Lundquist's Miranda rights, arguing that the statement should be tossed because his client was severely impaired by mental illness when he waived his right to remain silent.

In a nine-page order and memorandum, Starr said that while Lundquist made a series of "rambling" and "delusional" comments, it was also clear that he understood questions from the investigators and realized that he was a suspect in Gangness' death.

"Assuming that the defendant is mentally ill," the judge wrote, "this did not appear to interfere with his ability to understand the Miranda warning and what was going on when he was being interviewed by the officers."

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Authorities said Lundquist admitted that he attacked Gangness at the victim's apartment at the old Star Motel, 3901 First Ave., because "Jesus directed him to do it." He allegedly added that he picked the apartment because it was marked No. 12 and "everything came to 12."

Gangness' body was discovered in the apartment by police on Jan. 17, 2017, after it was reported he had failed to make his morning newspaper deliveries for the Hibbing Daily Tribune and was not answering his phone. An autopsy confirmed he sustained approximately 15 stab wounds to the back and a skull fracture.

Lundquist was arrested later that day based on descriptions given by neighbors, who reported seeing a "strange man" walking outside the building, and surveillance video from a convenience store next door. Authorities said he was found with items stolen from Gangness' apartment.

Lundquist was interviewed at the Hibbing Police Department by Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension special agents Paul Gherardi and Jerome Koneczny before he was booked on the murder charge.

St. Louis County prosecutor Jeff Vlatkovich, in a brief opposing Lundquist's motion, said the defendant was able to provide information that only Gangness' killer could know, such as the fact that he was stabbed in the back 15 times and bludgeoned with a VCR or DVD player.

Starr wrote in his order that the interview was not coercive, with Lundquist being advised of his rights and agreeing to continue. Aside from a handful of "nonsensical" comments, the judge said Lundquist didn't appear to have any difficulty answering the investigators' questions and even provided a false alibi at the beginning.

"The interview was straightforward and the defendant did not confess until the officers presented him with some evidence which contradicted the story that he had been giving them about what he had done prior to the interview," Starr wrote.

The judge noted that a June 2017 court-ordered mental-health evaluation "did not find any reason why the defendant would not be competent to proceed." Two other evaluations, he said, contain opinions from psychologists that could be used in a defense of not guilty by reason of mental illness or deficiency.

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"If the defendant has a mental illness that caused him to kill the victim, this may constitute a valid defense under (Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure)," the judge wrote, "but his mental illness did not cause his Miranda waiver to be invalid."

Starr scheduled Lundquist's next court appearance for Nov. 8. No trial date has been set.

Lundquist, who is charged with intentional second-degree murder, remains in the St. Louis County Jail on $1 million bail.

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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