The man accused of fatally shooting a St. Cloud State professor told investigators he'd gotten lost and crashed his car, then knocked on the victim's door for help – only to shoot him in a cloud of potential delusion.
Jason Robert Beckman, 45 years old, was charged Tuesday in Stearns County with second-degree murder, theft and unlawful possession of a firearm in connection with the death of Edward Ward, and the circumstances leading up to it.
Ward, a 68-year-old professor at St. Cloud State University, died after being shot in the doorway of his home on the 2600 Block of Island View Drive around 6 a.m. Sunday, June 20.
Prosecutors say it was Beckman, of Duluth, who pulled the trigger, with bullets striking Ward in the chest and abdomen. The charges describe it as a random attack, with the two men strangers to one another. Beckman's first court appearance was Tuesday morning. An omnibus hearing is currently scheduled for Aug. 10. The court has also ordered a competency proceeding and cognitive impairment exam.
According to the criminal complaint:
Beckman had borrowed a pickup truck and driven it to St. Cloud to visit family in the area. But the truck broke down, and Beckman went looking for another vehicle.
During this time, Beckman told police he saw a man in a grocery store parking lot pointing a tan rifle at him, but wasn't sure if it was real or a "delusion." He acknowledged he suffers from PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and manic depressive disorder, and also said he'd been using substances in the days prior to the shooting.
Beckman then stole an Audi from a Waite Park parking lot, got lost, and crashed the car into the front yard of a residence on Island View Drive.
He knocked on Ward's door, intending to ask for help. But when Ward answered, Beckman believed it was instead the person he'd seen pointing the tan rifle at him earlier.
Beckman drew a pistol, and Ward attempted to slam the door shut. Beckman fired once, striking Beckman, and then fired again, with the bullet traveling through the closed door. Ward was struck in the chest and abdomen, and can be heard on surveillance footage yelling for help.
Beckman then fled on foot after failing to steal another vehicle. He was arrested about an hour after the shooting while wandering near the St. Cloud State campus. He had a handgun on him that had previously been reported stolen, and cartridges that were consistent with other evidence found at the scene of the shooting.
While in custody, investigators said Beckman made "spontaneous utterances," including that people had killed his family, that he struggled with addiction, and that he'd ""watched my sister's head go down the interstate."
Ward had been a professor for more than 30 years at SCSU, working in the Management and Entrepreneurship department.
In a statement to Bring Me The News, SCSU President Robbyn R. Wacker said: "This is a heart wrenching and unexpected loss for Dr. Ward’s family and friends, our university, the Herberger Business School, our students and the St. Cloud community.
"Dr. Ward served as a member of our campus community since 1990. He has impacted countless students, faculty and staff throughout his tenure. He will truly be missed."