Prosecutors in Minnesota charged 35-year-old Duluth resident Jesse Dahlstrom with premeditated murder in the first degree on Tuesday. Dahlstrom is accused of stabbing Sally Marie Pionk, 75, to death in a grocery store located in West Duluth. He did not know the victim and chose her at random.
According to the criminal complaint against him, Dahlstrom admitted to investigators that on Dec. 11, he went to the Super One Foods with the intent to “either shop or kill somebody.” The complaint alleges that while Pionk was in the bakery section of the store, Dahlstrom grabbed her from behind and stabbed her in the neck. Pionk, who lived in Proctor, Minnesota, died at the scene after losing “a tremendous amount of blood.”
The complaint against Dahlstrom contains a witness’ report of seeing the alleged murderer come into the store and take out a knife. Deputy Chief of Police Mike Tusken says that Dahlstrom entered the store at a little before 8 p.m. with a steak knife. He then walked around the store with the knife in open view. Multiple store employees noticed Dahlstrom carrying the knife through the store and began to follow him.
One employee of Super One Foods said that he witnessed Dahlstrom approach Pionk from behind. After staring at the victim for approximately 20 seconds, Dahlstrom then grabbed her and put his arm around her neck. The employee says that Pionk dropped to the floor immediately, at which time the employee rushed to Dahlstrom in order to kick him away from the victim. Dahlstrom then dropped his knife and was restrained by three employees until authorities arrived and transported him to the St. Louis County Jail. Immediately after the attack, several nurses who had been in the store shopping tried unsuccessfully to revive Pionk. Tusken said that the entire episode took place within 10 minutes.
The complaint lists Pionk’s cause of death as blood loss from “sharp and blunt force trauma to her neck.” Mark Rubin, St. Louis County Attorney, expressed his sympathy to the victim’s friends and family on Monday. He then vowed that his office would do everything it could to give them justice.
During his court appearance on Tuesday, Dahlstrom interrupted the proceedings several times to say that he wished to act as his own attorney – a request dismissed by Judge Eric Hylden. If he is convicted of first-degree murder, per Minnesota law, a mandatory life sentence is imposed.
Bail was set at $1 million by the judge at the request of prosecutor Rebekka Stumme, who said that the high bail was necessary due to the “unprovoked and heinous” attack, at which time Dahlstrom said, “unprovoked is nuts.” All proceedings will be delayed pending a psychiatric exam of Dahlstrom, which was requested by his court-appointed attorney and consented to by Judge Hylden. Lara Zimm, Dahlstrom’s public defender, had no comment on Tuesday.
Tusken made it clear that random killings are rare and that he could not remember the last time such a crime had occurred in the Minnesota city on the shores of Lake Superior. A statement by Super One said that Chief of Police Gordon Ramsay has made counseling available to people who have been “affected by this horrible experience.” Although Dahlstrom has a clear criminal record in both Minnesota and neighboring Wisconsin, police indicated that they have had prior dealings with him and believe that he may suffer from some type of mental illness.
The family of Pionk expressed thanks to the Duluth, Minnesota, store’s customers and employees for their assistance. They described the victim as a “wonderful and dedicated mother,” saying that she had taken care of many people. They continued by saying that not a day “went by that she didn’t assist someone in need.”
By Jennifer Pfalz