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Charges: Intruder stabbed sleeping Duluth man more than a dozen times

A 20-year-old Duluth man was asleep in his bed early Saturday when an intruder looking for a place to rest stabbed him more than a dozen times in order to prevent him from calling police, according to charges filed Tuesday.

Nicholson, Willie Davis-web.jpg
Willie Davis Nicholson
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A 20-year-old Duluth man was asleep in his bed early Saturday when an intruder looking for a place to rest stabbed him more than a dozen times in order to prevent him from calling police, according to charges filed Tuesday.

Willie Davis Nicholson, 23, was arraigned on felony charges of attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault and first-degree burglary in an incident the prosecutor called an “unprovoked, vicious assault on a complete stranger.”

Nicholson allegedly admitted to police that he entered an apartment on the 4700 block of Grand Avenue shortly before 7 a.m. and stabbed the victim, Benjamin VanDell, up to 15 times. VanDell suffered serious, but not life-threatening, wounds to his head, torso, back and hands.

Nicholson allegedly admitted that he entered the residence looking for a place to sleep. Discovering VanDell in bed and hearing a phone ring, Nicholson told police he attacked the victim, with an intent to kill, out of fear of being caught, according to a criminal complaint.

Sixth Judicial District Judge David Johnson granted Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Kristen Swanson’s request to set bail at $200,000.


“The brazen nature of the attack on the victim, who was unable to defend himself, and given the fact that he was asleep at the time the defendant began stabbing him, highlights the significant risk this individual poses to public safety, particularly in light of the fact that the defendant was a complete stranger to the victim and other residents of the household,” the prosecutor wrote in a memo to the court.

According to the complaint:

VanDell’s girlfriend arrived home from work at about 6:50 a.m. and discovered that the chain lock had been fastened on the apartment door. She began knocking and yelling for someone to let her in, and then heard VanDell screaming inside.

Another roommate opened the door and the girlfriend soon saw an unknown man exit the bedroom she shares with VanDell. She reported that the intruder was covered in blood and he ran from the apartment.

VanDell also exited the bedroom, bleeding profusely. His girlfriend held pressure on his wounds until an ambulance transported him to St. Luke’s hospital, where it was discovered he had sustained at least 14 stab wounds.

Officers arriving on scene located Nicholson, who matched a description given by VanDell’s girlfriend. Police said his clothing, face and hair were covered with blood.

During an interview, the defendant told police he was simply looking for a place to sleep and found an open apartment. He said he did not know the victim or anyone else inside.

Nicholson said a phone began ringing in the apartment and VanDell “started stirring.” Afraid the victim could summon law enforcement, Nicholson said he stabbed VanDell approximately five times before he even awoke.


Nicholson stated that VanDell attempted to kick him to fend off the the attack. In response, Nicholson said he hit VanDell over the head and continued to stab at his chest - admitting that he was trying to kill the victim.

Nicholson stated that he eventually ran out of the bedroom, past VanDell’s girlfriend, and went to the nearby Whole Foods Co-op to wash off some of the blood. He was arrested soon after.

Among his injuries, VanDell suffered lacerations to the liver and diaphragm. He also sustained two wounds to the face and eye, as well as multiple injuries to an arm.

The only mailing address listed for Nicholson in the court record is at the CHUM drop-in center in downtown Duluth. A check of court records shows that he has only misdemeanor convictions on his record for possession of stolen property and shoplifting.

He is due back in court on Feb. 14.

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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