Delusions 'caused a drive' to murder, Hibbing witnesses say

HIBBING -- Two mental health experts testified Tuesday that they believe Benjamin David Lundquist did not understand it was wrong to kill Joel Dean Gangness in January 2017.

Benjamin David Lundquist

HIBBING - Two mental health experts testified Tuesday that they believe Benjamin David Lundquist did not understand it was wrong to kill Joel Dean Gangness in January 2017.

Both psychologists, retained by Lundquist's defense team, diagnosed the 34-year-old defendant with schizoaffective disorder - a condition that includes symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorder.

"He felt it was morally the right thing to do," testified Gerald Henkel-Johnson, an independent evaluator and former chair of the psychology and sociology department at the College of St. Scholastica.

Lundquist's delusional belief that the victim was a child molester - and that he was sent by God to eliminate him - persists more than two years later, according to fellow psychologist Jacqueline Buffington.

"I don't know if he believes it with the same strength, but yes, there are indications he still believes that," said Buffington, also an independent evaluator and an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth.


Lundquist, of Grand Rapids, pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness to a charge of intentional second-degree murder in the death of Gangness, 54, who was bludgeoned and stabbed more than a dozen times inside his apartment at the old Star Motel, 3901 First Ave., in Hibbing.

Judge Mark Starr on Monday found proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict Lundquist of the crime. However, the second phase of the trial asks the judge to determine his mental state at the time.

Under Minnesota law, the burden of proof is on the defense to demonstrate that the defendant either did not understand the nature of his act or that he did not realize it was wrong.

Both experts testified that a review of medical records showed Lundquist exhibited signs of concerning behavior as far back as age 5. His alcohol and drug abuse stretched back to his preteen years, and he never maintained a period of sobriety for more than a few months.

Lundquist struggled with tension, anxiety, depression and paranoia over the years - eventually getting a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, according to testimony. He also racked up criminal offenses, including three underage consumption citations and four DWIs.

"Going back and looking at different aspects of his life, you see that his functioning really started deteriorating in the last four to six years," Buffington testified.

Delusions and hallucinations were readily apparent in Lundquist's case, both evaluators told the court. He later told investigators that Jesus directed him to carry out the killing.

"The delusions caused a drive, a sense of mission, and he could not rest until that mission was complete," Henkel-Johnson testified.


St. Louis County prosecutor Jeff Vlatkovich disputed the conclusions reached by both evaluators, characterizing Lundquist's mental state as the result of decades of voluntary substance abuse.

Under state law, Vlatkovich said a defendant is presumed sane and responsible for his or her actions. Someone who was voluntarily intoxicated at the time does not qualify for a mental illness defense, he said.

Whether or not Lundquist was under the influence of methamphetamine or marijuana at the time of the crime was the subject of much debate. Both psychologists said he later claimed to have last used meth about three or four days prior to the murder; it was unclear when he last used marijuana. Both drugs were found in his system at the time of his arrest.

Under cross-examination from Vlatkovich, both Henkel-Johnson and Buffington conceded that people under the influence of controlled substances can exhibit psychotic episodes that can be confused with mental illness. Both could not definitively rule out the possibility that the actions were the result of a drug-induced psychosis.

However, Buffington told the court that she believed Lundquist's behavior to be "triggered" by a prescription he received for the drug Vyvanse just weeks before the murder. The drug, which can be used to treat ADHD and other conditions, can lead to psychotic states for someone with schizophrenia or similar conditions, she said.

With defense attorney Mark Groettum resting his case, Vlatkovich's first witness was a man who testified that he believed Lundquist to be under the influence of meth within a few hours of Gangness' murder.

Dustin Storer said he gave Lundquist a ride from Grand Rapids to Hibbing that night. He said he picked up the defendant, who he did not know, because he saw him out in the cold and not properly dressed for the conditions.

As they drove toward Hibbing, Storer said Lundquist began making bizarre comments, had slurred speech and could not hold his hands still. He testified that he recognized the symptoms as being common with meth use.


The behavior so concerned Storer that he began doing 20-30 mph over the speed limit in a failed effort to get stopped by police before he ended up dropping Lundquist off at the gas station across the street from Gangness' apartment, he testified.

Asked why he did not notify authorities, Storer explained: "I just figured he was another drug addict like the rest of the town."

Originally scheduled for two days, the trial was extended for a third day of testimony. Vlatkovich will continue to present his case on Wednesday.

A judge typically has seven days to render a verdict after a court trial, but it is anticipated that a briefing schedule will be set to allow attorneys to submit written closing arguments before Starr issues his findings.

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
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