Double Murder by Sexually Abusive Priest Gives Rise to New Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Young Victim's Parents Reluctantly Take Legal Action against Superior Catholic Diocese Confronted about Child Molestation, Cleric Shot Two Men and Years Later, Hung Himself Church Officials Knew of His Crimes & Bizarre Behavior but Didn't Act, Suit Says Victim's Family Sets up Non-Profit Child Protection Foundation
December 12, 2006
Young Victim's Parents Reluctantly Take Legal Action Against Superior Catholic Diocese Confronted About Child Molestation, Cleric Shot Two Men and Years Later, Hung Himself Church Officials Knew of His Crimes & Bizarre Behavior But Didn't Act, Suit Says Victim's Family Sets Up Non-profit Child Protection Foundation
St. Paul, Minn., Dec. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- A Wisconsin couple whose son was murdered by a bizarre and sexually abusive Catholic priest is "reluctantly" filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the Superior Diocese that ordained and hired the cleric. Carsten and Sally Ellison of Barron, Wisconsin, filed a civil lawsuit today in St. Croix County Court, Wisconsin, Court File No. 06CV938 assigned to Judge Lundell seeking unspecified damages for the loss of their 22-year-old son, James Ellison. He and Daniel O'Connell were shot and killed at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home in Hudson by Fr. Ryan Erickson in February 2002. Days earlier, O'Connell had apparently confronted Erickson, his parish priest, about allegations that Erickson was molesting local children.
The murders were unsolved for more than two years. During interviews with Hudson police in 2004, Ryan Erickson disclosed details about the crime scene that had not been released to the public; as police began to strongly suspect Erickson, he hanged himself outside the church he was then serving in Hurley, Wisconsin. Through their extensive investigation the police learned that for years Erickson had engaged in a variety of suspicious and disturbing behaviors, such as allegations of sexual assault; excessive alcohol use; violence against animals, including his own dog; as well as a fascination with guns, usually carrying one on his person. This evidence was presented to St. Croix County Judge Eric Lundell at a hearing in October 2005, who ruled there was probable cause to believe Erickson had killed O'Connell and Ellison in a "premeditated" fashion.
The Ellisons' lawsuit contends the Diocese of Superior was fully aware of Ryan Erickson's behaviors but did nothing, allowing him to be ordained despite the misgivings of some of his seminary professors. The Diocese then placed Erickson at St. Patrick's parish in Hudson without disclosing any information regarding his past to its parishioners or clergy.
"This was a very hard decision for us," the Ellisons stated. "We struggled with this for a long time. We finally concluded this is the only way we can obtain some measure of accountability, or responsibility for, the deaths of our son and Dan O'Connell." The Ellison family has set up a non-profit corporation entitled The James Ellison Foundation for the Protection of Children, Inc. "We want people to know from the start that any monetary gain from this legal action will go directly into that foundation. No proceeds would ever be used for our personal use," said Carsten. Sally added, "It is our hope that some good can still come out of this tragedy. We want to do what we can to prevent the pain of child sexual abuse, but also to provide counseling and after-care for those who have been abused in the past. That is our vision for the foundation."
The Ellisons are fully supportive of the efforts of Dan O'Connell's parents and siblings in working for change within the Catholic Church, regarding the handling of pedophile priests and their victims. The O'Connells have proposed a five-step plan, including releasing the names of predatory clergy, a discipline mechanism to hold accountable those bishops who ordain troubled priests, full disclosure of records involving priests and other church personnel who have molested children, a measurable plan for caring for victims of clergy abuse, and support from bishops in reforming state child sexual abuse laws. Dan's brother, Tom O'Connell of Madison, Wisconsin, said, "We've spent countless hours researching and developing our five-point reform plan, and we're absolutely convinced these are the actions the bishops must take if the church is to heal and if the children are to be safe."
Both families are represented by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson. For a copy of the complaint contact 651-227-9990.
Source: Jeff Anderson & Associates
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