Priest Believed to Have Killed Two Told of 'Wretched Life'

Associated Press, carried in Janesville Gazette [Wisconsin]
February 3, 2006

HUDSON, Wis. - A late priest who a judge ruled likely killed two funeral home workers nearly four years ago wrote in his will that he led a "wretched life," was lustful, did things in the heat of passion and was disappointed in "all of the evils I have all too often performed," police documents show.

But the Rev. Ryan Erickson used the will to deny again that he killed Dan O'Connell or James Ellison, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported after reviewing the documents released Thursday.

The 99 pages of documents released by the Hudson Police Department indicate that Erickson's computer, seized from a church in Hurley, contained images of child pornography and jokes about sex and the church, the newspaper reported.

Erickson, 31, hanged himself about a year ago at a church rectory in Hurley in far northern Wisconsin, just days after police questioned him in the slayings.

Erickson was a priest at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Hudson when O'Connell, 39, and Ellison, 22, were fatally shot on Feb. 5, 2002, at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home.

In October, St. Croix County Circuit Judge Eric Lundell ruled there was probable cause that Erickson shot the two men. O'Connell was a member of the church, and District Attorney Eric Johnson said evidence suggested he found out the priest was sexually abusing someone, was providing alcohol to minors, or both.

Police said Erickson apparently shot O'Connell in an office, Ellison responded to the noise and then he too was shot.

In transcripts of two interviews with detectives that police released earlier, Erickson repeatedly told them he had no idea who committed the murders.

In Erickson's last will and testament that police recovered at the church in Hurley, he wrote that he had led a "wretched life" and had been "tormented for years, ever since I was 12 years old," the Star Tribune reported.

"I'm extremely tired (and disappointed) with myself and all of the evils I have all too often performed. I do not know why I did what I did, believe me, I have often thought and prayed about it," Erickson wrote.

"Why was I so lustful? Was I 'wired' that way ... too easy (sic) an excuse! ... I chose, be it in the heat of passion, to do things I did. Please believe when I say that I was always sorry for my actions after I performed them," the priest wrote. "I did NOT however, kill Dan O'Connell or James - or anyone, for that matter."

Last month, Roman Catholic Bishop Raphael Fliss of Superior met with members of St. Patrick's Church and apologized for the way the diocese handled Erickson. Fliss also promised changes, including better evaluation of priests and improved communications with parishes to resolve complaints.

Some church members have publicly wondered whether the killings could have been prevented had the diocese acted when parishioners complained about Erickson, who was ordained in 2000 and began his career at the Hudson church.

The Hudson Police Department has sporadically released records related to the investigation of the murder now that the case is closed.


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