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Duluth man accused of supermarket murder found not guilty by mental illness

Jesse Alan Dahlstrom

DULUTH — The man accused in the 2014 stabbing death of a Proctor, Minn., woman at a Duluth grocery store has been found not guilty because of mental illness.

Jesse Dahlstrom will remain committed indefinitely to the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter following Sixth Judicial District Judge David Johnson's decision filed Thursday, Aug. 2.

Dahlstrom was charged with second degree murder in the death of 75-year-old Sally Marie Pionk. She was killed by Dahlstrom in a random knife attack while shopping at the West Duluth Super One store on a December night.

Dahlstrom, 39, appeared in State District Court Tuesday for the first time since his arraignment in the days following Pionk's death. Since then, he's been committed to the state mental health facility. The "stipulated facts trial" was a process that most expected would result in Johnson's eventual not guilty decision.

In a seven-page document, Johnson wrote that while Dahlstrom undoubtedly killed Pionk "beyond a reasonable doubt," he found him not guilty by reason of mental illness.

Evidence shows that Dahlstrom, he said, "was suffering from such mental illness at the time of this offense, such that he could not comprehend the wrongfulness of that behavior."

Dahlstrom was diagnosed with schizophrenia. According to a report by a state review board that rules on patients' petitions for release from the state hospital, Dahlstrom "displayed significant delusional beliefs at the time of the offense including the belief that he was not human and was being persecuted by the human race."

Johnson cited Dr. Martin Lloyd's findings that Dahlstrom believed his own murder was imminent, and that Pionk was of an "extremely powerful" species. The doctor reported Dahlstrom didn't know the nature or wrongfulness of his actions at the time of the killing and determined he still has a "severe case of the disorder."

Johnson reached his decision after two days.

Pionk's daughter Toni Merritt on Friday said she was "sickened" by the judgment.

"It's been a long road to nowhere, is what it's been," she said, noting her fear that Dahlstrom's time in a mental health facility won't be permanent.

"It's unfair and it's sad," Merritt said. "He doesn't deserve to be let out into the public to let anybody else get hurt."