Criminal complaint in Babbitt killing details victim’s fear

Tom Olsen, Duluth News Tribune
Shawn Russel Doherty

A Mahtomedi, Minn., man told his Babbitt-area girlfriend that he was afraid to be left alone with her son shortly before he was found strangled to death. Authorities later found the woman’s son curled up in a fetal position in the tub of the home, according to a criminal complaint filed Thursday.

The complaint offers graphic details of an alleged attack that led to the death of 55-year-old Paul John Bulen, who police said was staying with the Babbitt woman and her son.

The son, Shawn Russel Doherty, was charged Thursday in State District Court in Virginia with second-degree intentional murder.

Judge Gary Pagliaccetti set Doherty’s bail at $1 million and ordered that he undergo a competency evaluation before the case proceeds. The evaluation will examine Doherty’s mental state at the time of the alleged crime and determine whether he can understand the charges against him and participate in his defense.

Pagliaccetti also ordered that a public defender represent Doherty during the proceedings. As with all defendants, he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Prosecutor Michelle Williams indicated that the state intends to seek an aggravated sentence for Doherty, saying that he treated Bulen with particular cruelty and initially tried to cover up the killing.

The maximum statutory sentence for second-degree murder conviction in Minnesota is 40 years. A guideline sentence for a defendant with no criminal history is about 25 years.

The charges stem from the Monday death of Bulen, who was found dead in the street in front of the Doherty home at 37 Astor Road just after 11 a.m.

Responding officers found Bulen with injuries to his head and torso, and noticed a small amount of blood in the snow around his head, according to the complaint. It appeared that someone had used to a shovel to cover a trail of blood leading from the front door to Bulen’s body, officers noted. Inside the home, they found blood splattered on a stairwell and wall leading upstairs.

Shawn Doherty was found upstairs in the bathroom. Without prompting, he allegedly told officers, “I did it for my grandpa. I put him in the dirt.”

Lynda Doherty arrived at the house and told officers that she was out running errands. She said that when she left, her son was sleeping on the couch and her boyfriend was in an upstairs bedroom.

She said that before she left, Bulen had asked her to lock the bedroom door because he was afraid of her son, according to the complaint. She also told officers that on the previous night, Shawn Doherty came into the bedroom she was sharing with Bulen, repeatedly waking her up.

“This guy is getting between us,” he allegedly told her. “I’m going to kill him.” Lynda Doherty said she did not think much of the statement.

Babbitt Police Chief Chad Loewen told the News Tribune that Bulen was a “guest in the home for a few days.” According to an obituary published in the Mesabi Daily News, Lynda Doherty’s father passed away last week, and a funeral was scheduled for Tuesday in Babbitt.

The St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy on Bulen on Tuesday, determining the cause of death to be asphyxia due to manual strangulation.

Bulen’s body had neck and head trauma, along with apparent rug burn injuries to his chest and both elbows, according to the complaint.

In seeking a longer-than-guideline sentence for Doherty, the complaint claims that Bulen was treated with cruelty because the killing occurred within his “zone of privacy” and his body was deposited in the street.

A check of Minnesota and Wisconsin court records shows only two misdemeanor convictions for Doherty. He pleaded guilty to fourth-degree damage to property in 2009 and disorderly conduct in 2012.

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