Slain intern's family files suit against diocese
Wrongful death case focuses on priest in mortuary deaths
BY KEVIN HARTER
Frustrated with what they see as inaction and lack of concern forvictims of clergy sexual abuse, the family of one of the two men likelykilled by a Hudson priest in 2002 "reluctantly" filed a wrongful deathlawsuit Tuesday against the Diocese of Superior.
The attorney for Carsten and Sally Ellison filed the lawsuit in St.Croix County Circuit Court seeking unspecified damages from the RomanCatholic diocese. The Barron, Wis., family hopes to use any money froma verdict or settlement to establish the James Ellison Foundation forthe Protection of Children.
"We do not want blood money. No proceeds will ever be used for ourpersonal use," said Carsten Ellison, noting that the statute oflimitations for filing was near. "If we didn't do something, it justall goes away. We felt we needed to do something for James. It was sucha terrible crime. Someone needs to be accountable, to takeresponsibility for the deaths of our son and Dan O'Connell."
Diocese officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Hudson funeral director Dan O'Connell and the Ellisons' 22-year-oldson, a University of Minnesota mortuary science intern, were shot todeath about five years ago at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home.Investigators say the likely killer was the Rev. Ryan Erickson.
Erickson, who was assigned to St. Patrick's Catholic Church inHudson at the time of the homicides, had an extensive firearmscollection and a history of excessive drinking, mental instability andalleged sexual abuse.
"The lawsuit was filed against the diocese and Bishop (Raphael)Fliss for failure to heed the warning signs of this psychopath andsociopath," said Jeff Anderson, the St. Paul-based attorney for theEllisons.
"This family agonized over this decision, but they are committed topreventing this from happening to others," said Anderson, who isnationally known for representing victims of clergy abuse. "This is thebest and only option for them now to seek accountability from thechurch."
Anderson also represents the family of Dan O'Connell, which hasfiled a lawsuit seeking some 5,000 names of clergymen accused ofmolestation. The suit, naming all U.S. Catholic bishops, seeks nofinancial damages, only the names. The family plans to publish them.
Investigators believe Erickson killed O'Connell, 39, because the St.Patrick's parishioner may have confronted Erickson with concerns orevidence of the priest's sexual abuse of children. Ellison, who hadstopped by the funeral home on Feb. 5, 2002, to have internship paperssigned, was killed when he entered O'Connell's office, investigatorshave said.
The wrongful death lawsuit was assigned to St. Croix County JudgeEric Lundell, who ruled in October 2005 that there was overwhelmingcircumstantial evidence showing that Erickson, who committed suicide inDecember 2004 after being questioned by police, had murdered the twomen.
The Ellisons' lawsuit contends the diocese was fully aware ofallegations against Erickson but did nothing. Diocesan leaders allowedhim to be ordained despite the concerns of some of his seminaryprofessors, the suit says.
The diocese then placed Erickson at St. Patrick's parish withoutdisclosing any information regarding his past to its parishioners orclergy. The bishop later transferred Erickson to Ladysmith and thenHurley, where the 31-year-old priest hanged himself.
"Our son did not have to die. It was not a car accident. It could have been prevented," Sally Ellison said.
"It is our hope that some good can still come out of this tragedy,"she added. "We want to do what we can to prevent child abuse, and toprovide counseling and after-care for those who have been abused. Thatis our vision for the foundation."
Kevin Harter can be reached at email@example.com
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