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O'Connell probe is not starting over

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Despite some reports by Twin Cities television stations last week, the Hudson Police Department says it is not starting over in its investigation of the murders of Dan O'Connell and James Ellison three years ago.

HPD Chief Dick Trende said some of the television reports following up on a press release from his department last Tuesday "left the impression that we were starting all over in our investigation." Trende said nothing could be further from the truth.

The chief suspect in the case appears to be the late Father Ryan Erickson, who was a priest at St. Patrick's at the time of the murders. Erickson committed suicide last December in Hurley after being questioned about the case and other possible criminal activity, and following a search of his residence and office there.

Trende's press release followed a meeting investigators had on April 22 with District Attorney Eric Johnson to lay out the evidence and substance of their three-year investigation. Johnson made some recommendations regarding follow-up in the case, and together they came up with a list of requests from the public. Trende said the requests were one more attempt to get information in the case.

"I believe that some people may still be out there with real information, and we need to have them come forward to clarify what we do have. We are trying to be correct in what information we have."

Police are interested in:

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  • Any information regarding any person who may have had a meeting, planned or unplanned, or any contacts with Dan O'Connell or James Ellison on Feb. 5, 2002, or the day or days before the homicides.

  • Any facts regarding information that Dan O'Connell or James Ellison may have obtained about inappropriate or possibly criminal conduct of other person(s).

  • Any information on the possession or sale of a firearm that may be related to the murders.

  • Any information about the possible owner or operator of a light-colored, mid-sized car (possibly a GM product) that was seen in front of the O'Connell funeral home around the time of the homicides. The vehicle in question had a black license plate bracket that was missing the front plate.

    Trende said the motivation behind the release was to get whatever information they could that would help them determine who was responsible for the murders and on any other criminal activity that might be related to the case. "Our purpose has always been to get at the truth of this case. Any information we have gathered or get from the public helps us put together the puzzle of what happened."

    Trende said the two investigators on the case, detectives Jeff Knopps and Shawn Pettee, are continuing their work in an effort to present District Attorney Johnson with as much information as possible on all aspects of the case.

    Johnson said that once the police investigation is completed, he would likely meet with the O'Connell and Ellison families to discuss the findings and lay out the options his office could take in the case. Among those are another John Doe closed hearing of the evidence with testimony in a closed session before a judge.

    There is also the option of holding a coroner's inquest into the case. Both options would result in a finding of probable cause - that is, whether there was sufficient evidence to charge someone with the murders.

    Johnson said he would make the decision on which option to take after the completion of the investigation and after consulting the families. He stated he would also likely talk to Erickson's family about any action his office would take.

    Anyone with information about the case can contact the Hudson Police Department at (715) 386-4771.

    Meg Heaton can be reached at mheaton@rivertowns.net

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    Meg Heaton
    Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
    (715) 808-8604
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