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Suspect in random Duluth stabbing appears in court

Willie Davis Nicholson

The suspect accused of entering a West Duluth residence and randomly stabbing a sleeping man more than a dozen times last month was back in court Wednesday.

Willie Davis Nicholson, 23, appeared briefly in State District Court in Duluth for the first time since his arraignment on charges of attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault and first-degree burglary.

Nicholson is accused of entering an apartment on the 4700 block of Grand Avenue shortly before 7 a.m. on Jan. 27 and stabbing 20-year-old Benjamin VanDell at least 14 times.

Nicholson allegedly told police that he was looking for a place to sleep and found an open apartment. He said he attacked VanDell after a phone started ringing and he feared the victim would be able to call police, according to a criminal complaint.

Defense attorneys Rebecca Shaw and Steve Hynum told 6th Judicial District Judge Jill Eichenwald that they were still receiving evidence and needed additional time before deciding how to proceed with the case. St. Louis County prosecutor Kristen Swanson did not object to a continuance.

Eichenwald scheduled Nicholson's next appearance for March 30.

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

VanDell has undergone multiple surgeries in the past weeks, the family reported in its most recent update to a GoFundMe page, which had raised more than $6,000 as of Wednesday. Several family members also were in the courtroom for Nicholson's hearing.

"We would like to thank everyone for your generous donations, prayers and support for Ben," the family wrote in the latest fundraiser update. "He continues with recovery with a positive attitude and hope."

The fundraising page can be found at