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Hibbing murder suspect wants confession tossed

Benjamin David Lundquist

A Hibbing murder defendant's confession to investigators should be tossed because he was severely impaired by mental illness when he waived his right to remain silent, his defense attorney argued.

Benjamin David Lundquist, 34, of Grand Rapids, is charged with intentional second-degree murder in the random stabbing and beating death of 54-year-old Joel Dean Gangness in January 2017.

Authorities said Lundquist admitted at the time 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."

However, in a recently filed motion, defense attorney Mark Groettum asked a judge to suppress all of Lundquist's statements to investigators, alleging several violations of his Miranda rights.

Groettum cited long, rambling statements from Lundquist as well as evidence of psychosis from numerous mental health evaluations in asserting that the defendant "was not competent at the time he waived his rights and gave a statement."

"In reviewing the totality of the circumstances, it is clear that Mr. Lundquist lacked the ability to effectuate a knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights," Groettum wrote in a 17-page memorandum.

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.

The court proceedings have been delayed as Lundquist has undergone numerous evaluations to determine his competency to proceed in court and his mental health state at the time of the alleged crime.

In a response to Groettum's motion, St. Louis County prosecutor Jeff Vlatkovich denied that Lundquist's rights were violated at any point during his arrest and interrogation.

While not disputing Lundquist's history of mental health and chemical dependency issues, Vlatkovich said a transcript of his interview showed that he was able to provide coherent answers to the agents' questions.

According to the prosecutor, that included factual information about the nature of the slaying — including details that Gangness was stabbed in the back exactly 15 times and bludgeoned with a VCR or DVD player. Lundquist also was able to provide personal information about himself and initially claimed an alibi before admitting to the killing, Vlatkovich said.

"Clearly, the defendant's taped statement is admissible evidence," he wrote in a nine-page memorandum. "The defendant demonstrated comprehension and logical answers to questions in an interview lasting more than 90 minutes. Special agents did not coerce the defendant to confess, nor did they so manipulate or overpower the defendant's will."

Vlatkovich further noted that the evidence collected in the competency evaluations could be introduced later in a defense of not guilty by reason of mental illness but contended that it was not relevant to the issue of his Miranda rights.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Starr took the issue under advisement this month and is expected to issue a written ruling. No further court dates have been scheduled.

Gherardi and Koneczny, the two BCA agents, were sharply criticized by a judge in another Iron Range murder case that was dismissed in 2016.

In that case, Judge David Ackerson cited leading questions and false promises in a "highly coercive" interrogation of Bruce Wayne Cameron, who was charged with the 1987 cold-case killing of Leona Mary Maslowski. Ackerson wrote at the time that Cameron suffered from a "mild cognitive impairment" and that he appeared to be "thoroughly intimidated and frightened by the coercive nature of the interrogation."