HIBBING — The Grand Rapids man who fatally stabbed a Hibbing Daily Tribune news carrier and blamed direction from Jesus for the killing was sentenced to prison this week.
Benjamin David Lundquist, 34, was ordered to serve nearly 29 years in prison Thursday at St. Louis County District Court for Joel Dean Gangness’ murder. The sentence and emotional hearing brought an end to the two-year prosecution of Lundquist for a drug-fueled and seemingly senseless crime that shocked Iron Range communities from the night it occurred in January 2017.
Sixth District Judge Mark M. Starr told the packed courtroom the crime was “one of the worst examples I’ve seen of methamphetamine taking a toll on our communities.” Starr continued, “Mr. Lundquist was in a psychotic state and Mr. Gangness was unfortunately the person that his delusional mind focused on. It could have easily been someone else.”
Deborah Gangness stood before the court when reading a victim’s impact statement, describing her brother-in-law as “a good, kind, loving generous person” who would “give you the shirt off his back.”
She explained that the victim’s mother — age 88 at the time of the murder — could not bear coming to the hearing and suffered from nightmares of her son’s murderer coming to her own home.
“No mother should ever have to lose their son in this tragic way...” Deborah Gangness said, crying through her statement only several feet from a shackled Lundquist who sat beside his defense lawyer. “A mother should not have to outlive her son.” She asked the judge for the maximum sentence after telling him that in his death Gangness also leaves behind one son, two daughters and three grandchildren.
Back in February, Lundquist was convicted of second-degree murder for fatally stabbing 54-year-old Gangness two years ago at his apartment at the former Star Motel at 3901 First Ave in Hibbing.
During that three-day stretch of court proceedings, county prosecutor Jeff Vlatkovich maintained that the murder was linked to methamphetamine use, as defense attorneys Kimberly Corradi and Mark Groettum cited mental illness and brought up her client’s telling investigators he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
In April, Starr rejected his mental illness defense that he was not sound of mind when he killed Gangness. A pair of psychologists retained by the defense told the court they diagnosed Lundquist with schizoaffective disorder. But a court-appointed psychologist testified that Lundquist was delusional due his voluntary use of methamphetamine. Starr would hold that he “did not have a mental illness or cognitive impairment as to afford him the mental illness defense and “the defense did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Lundquist did not know the nature of his act of killing Mr. Gangness was morally wrong.”
According to district court documents, it was two winters ago when Lundquist encountered Gangness at his apartment in Hibbing. Lundquist would admit to bludgeoning him with a VCR and stabbing him in the back 15 times. He claimed that Jesus compelled him to murder a child molester and a pornographer and that he chose Apt. No. 12 since “Everything came to 12.”
Authorities received reports that Gangness was missing after he did not pick up his phone or show up for morning shift delivering newspapers for the HDT. His dead body was found face down in his apartment on Jan. 17, 2017. A number of CDs and a dinner plate embossed with the word “love” put upon his back.
Neighbors described Lundquist and law enforcement arrested him the next day. He initially denied everything until confronted with surveillance video. Then he confessed.
“I’m going to hell if I don’t take care of this,” he said in a recorded interview. “That’s what Jesus told me.”
For the prosecution, Dustin Storer testified that he saw Lundquist standing in the cold in Grand Rapids the night of the murder. He picked him up and drove him to Hibbing. He testified that he was worried about the man’s behavior, hit the gas to go 30 mph over the speed limit in an effort to get pulled over by police and finally dropped him off at a gas station across the street from Gangness’ apartment. “I just figured he was another drug addict like the rest of the town,” Storer said.
Another witness, Shara Norris testified that she nearly ran her vehicle into Lundquist while driving at about 4 a.m., the early morning after the murder. He was standing in the middle of U.S. Highway 169 in Hibbing.
Norris stopped to see if Lundquist alright. He jumped into the car. “My intuition told me he was going to kill me,” Norris said. She drove to her job at a gas station in Nashwauk, where he remained for three hours drinking coffee, reading a newspaper and speaking to a bobblehead doll he apparently stole from Gangness’ apartment. She asked him to leave the store. He left his phone number, asked her to call him and left.
While incarcerated, Lundquist — who told authorities he knew he would marry Norris the first time they met — has had two released inmates visit her and apologize on his behalf.
When Lundquist addressed the judge this week, he proclaimed that he would “just like to apologize for what I did.”
Lundquist continued, “Joel Gangness is in God’s hands, his Father’s hands. I am sorry for what I did. I’ll see him on the other side. I accept any sentencing that I get.”
Starr moved to sentence him to the state’s “presumptive guideline” term of 346 months in prison. He gave 877 days credit for time spent in jail and set a restitution hearing out two months. Lundquist expressed no noticeable reaction and was soon escorted back to his seat in the courtroom.
Next to him sat Deshon Israel Bonnell, who has been charged in the Mesabi Trail muder case in Hibbing.