Judge Says There Is Probable Cause Rev. Erickson Killed Two Men

By Kevin Harter
Pioneer Press [Hudson WI]
October 3, 2005

There is probable cause to conclude the Rev. Ryan Erickson killed two men at a Hudson funeral home in 2002, a St. Croix County judge said Monday afternoon.

Judge Eric Lundell said that on a scale of 1 to 10, the case laid out Monday against Erickson was so convincing, he'd rate the probable cause the Erickson committed the crimes a 10.

Lundell gave his opinion after a day-long hearing at which District Attorney Eric Johnson asked questions of numerous people who made the case against Erickson. At the time of the killings on Feb. 5, 2002, Erickson was assigned to St. Patrick's Church in Hudson.

Earlier in the day, a church deacon testified that Erickson blurted out that he committed the killings at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home and that he expected to be arrested.

Russ Lundgren, the church deacon in Hurley, Wis., said Erickson admitted to the killings in November 2004, the day after being interviewed by police investigating the shooting deaths of funeral home director Dan O'Connell and mortuary intern James Ellison.

Lundgren said Erickson was gazing out a window when he suddenly said, "I done it, and they're going to get me."

Erickson had been transferred to Ladysmith, Wis., and then to Hurley after the Hudson killings.

Erickson hanged himself outside the Hudson church on Dec. 19, 2004.

Lundgren said Erickson was angry when discussing the interview by Hudson police.

"The more he talked, the more angry he got," Lundgren said.

At one point, after admitting to the shootings, Erickson told Lundgren, "Do you know what they do with young guys in prison, especially priests?"

Lundgren told others in the church about Erickson's statements, but he didn't inform investigators.

"I was praying to God it didn't take place," Lundgren said of his conversation with Erickson.

Hudson police Lt. Paul Larson also testified Monday, laying out the basics of the crime.

Larson said the killings occurred between 1:08 p.m. and 1:22 p.m. on Feb. 5, based on phone records showing when a call was made from the funeral home and when a call went unanswered.

A 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, which hasn't been recovered, was used in the killings.

Both O'Connell and Ellison were shot in the head at a range of less than 3 feet.

O'Connell was sitting at his desk when he was shot.

Ellison was standing when the first shot was fired at him. He had raised his left hand in a defensive posture, and the bullet nicked his left pinky finger. Investigators contend that the shooter then took a couple steps closer and shot Ellison in the head.

Asked by district attorney Johnson who he thought committed the crime, Larson said, "I believe Ryan Erickson was involved. He was the perpetrator based on what witnesses have said."

Also Monday, school bus driver Mary Pagel testified that she had met with O'Connell the morning of the shootings and warned him against confronting Erickson with allegations that he had sexually abused boys.

Pagel said she saw O'Connell at Wal-Mart in the mid-morning Feb. 5 and had coffee with him. He asked her if she had ever seen Erickson inappropriately touch boys. She said no but added that she had noticed that he spent all of his time with boys and ignored girls.

"What he told me surprised and upset me," Pagel said. "He told me he was having a meeting with Father Erickson sometime after noon."

Pagel told O'Connell that if he had concerns about the priest, he should report the matter to police rather than handle the matter himself.

"Dan told me, 'I can handle it,' " Pagel said.

Also Monday morning, a witness testified that at age 15 or 16, Erickson gave him alcohol and fondled him in the rectory of St. Patrick's Church. The two met when Erickson was assigned to St. Anne Parish in Somerset, Wis.

Another person, now 22, said he also drank with that boy and Erickson at the rectory. This man said he feared that Erickson was grooming him for sexual abuse.

Construction supervisor John Fassbinder also testified, saying he had noticed a car matching the description of Erickson's car near the funeral home on the day of the killing.

The hearing held Monday is called a John Doe proceeding, held to air the facts of the case. Such proceedings can be held in five state, but not in Minnesota.


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