Wis. deacon: Priest admitted to killings - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Wis. deacon: Priest admitted to killings

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Posted: Monday, October 3, 2005 1:27 pm | Updated: 8:33 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

HUDSON, Wis. (AP) -- A Roman Catholic priest who hanged himself in December confided to a fellow clergyman that he killed two people at a funeral home in 2002, a deacon testified Monday.

The Rev. Ryan Erickson committed suicide after police questioned him about the shooting deaths of funeral home director Dan O'Connell, 39, and employee James Ellison, 22. At the time, Erickson denied any involvement in the killings.

At an unusual court hearing requested by the victims' families, Deacon Russell Lundgren testified Monday that he talked to Erickson after the priest was questioned by police.

"He tells me that `I done it and they were going to catch me,'" Lundgren testified.

The testimony also established a possible motive for the slayings: The funeral director suspected the priest was abusing children and planned to confront him the day of the killings.

Although Erickson cannot be charged, the victims' families requested the hearing to determine who was responsible for the killings.

The so-called John Doe hearing is used in only a few states, typically as an investigative tool. The hearing, which was expected to last three days, was closed to the public, but some reporters were allowed to attend. After the hearing is over, a judge will issue an opinion on whether Erickson was responsible for the crimes.

The day the funeral director was killed, he asked school bus driver Mary Pagel if she had ever seen the priest touch a child inappropriately and said he had a meeting with Erickson that afternoon, Pagel testified.

Pagel said she warned O'Connell not to meet the priest alone. She said she urged him to talk to police first. "Dan told me, `I can handle it,'" Pagel said.

Police believe O'Connell was shot once in the head, and Ellison was killed when he came into the office to see what had happened.

Erickson, 31, was found hanged Dec. 19 from a fire escape at St. Mary's Church in Hurley several days after he was questioned by police.

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