Hearing held in the TRF murder of Steven Opdahl at Digi-Key

Jorge Luis Benitez-Estremera
Jorge Luis Benitez-Estremera

A law enforcement officer testified Tuesday afternoon about his interview with a Thief River Falls man accused of murdering a Digi-Key employee outside of the business in May 2023.

Jorge Luis Benitez-Estremera, 33, was indicted last year on felony charges of first-degree murder – premeditated and second-degree murder – intent. He is accused of intentionally killing Steven Opdahl, 61, Oklee, on May 9 outside of DigiKey in Thief River Falls.

Opdahl had suffered severe trauma to the left portion of his head. Next to his body was a parking pole with a sign. Blood was also visible in various areas near his body, and bloody clothing was found in a nearby garbage can. Opdahl was assaulted while on a smoke break outside of his place of employment. No one witnessed the incident.

Benitez-Estremera didn’t work there and had been waiting in the parking lot to pick up his girlfriend who worked there. About two hours after the 911 call, law enforcement located him at a Thief River Falls apartment building.

Benitez-Estremera’s attorneys, Steve Bergeson and Eric Gudmundson, plan to rely upon a defense of mental illness or deficiency. In addition to that defense, they plan to rely on the defense of not guilty.

On Tuesday, Judge Tamara Yon heard testimony related to a defense motion seeking to suppress statements made to Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ricky Wuori Jr. and Pine to Prairie Drug Task Force Special Agent Jason Cervantes. Those statements were made to the law enforcement officers during the early morning hours of May 10 and shortly after Opdahl was discovered lying dead outside of the business.

Testifying for about an hour and a half, Wuori was the only person who testified during Tuesday’s court hearing. Testifying on behalf of the state, he said he and Cervantes utilized an interpreter since neither man is fluent in Spanish. Wuori said a corrections officer initially served as an interpreter. However, about six minutes into the interview, Benitez-Estremera said he didn’t like the interpreter. Law enforcement stopped the interview and then utilized Language Line, which provides interpreter services to the BCA as part of a contract. Wuori testified the interview was recorded, and it was also transcribed in both English and Spanish.

Initially and at times during the interview, Wuori testified, Benitez-Estremera was angry and agitated. At the start of the interview, he made a loud, growling noise. He also didn’t like the Language Line interpreter and touched Wuori’s phone while the interpreter was being utilized, but Wuori explained why they were utilizing such a service.

Wuori recalled Benitez-Estremera clarified his birth date in a conversation with the interpreter. He also testified that Benitez-Estremera answered his questions a couple of times before the interpreter was finished.

Assistant Minnesota Attorney General John Gross, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant Pennington County Attorney Scott Collins, asked whether anything seemed strange during the interview. Wuori said Benitez-Estremera talked about a dream with Donald Trump locked in a bubble. He testified Benitez-Estremera said it seemed like he was hitting metal when he hit Opdahl, and Benitez-Estremera also said something to the effect that he needed to cleanse and take out the system for the protection of everybody.

Wuori said he didn’t have time to review the DigiKey security video before the interview. However, he reviewed it afterward. Wuori testified that Benitez-Estremera’s chain of events were consistent with the video.

Benitez-Estremera was taken to a hospital after the interview. Wuori recalled Benitez-Estremera had red and swollen hands. He also referred to a bruise.

Bergeson asked Wuori about Benitez-Estremera’s comprehension of the Miranda warning. Wuori, who didn’t know Benitez-Estremera, said he would have stopped the interview if he believed something was affecting Benitez-Estremera’s ability to comprehend what was occurring. Bergeson asked if he recalled Benitez-Estremera mentioning something about a tattoo monster during the interview. Wuori said he didn’t recall.

Wuori testified neither he nor Cervantes ever asked Benitez-Estremera to explain in his own words the Miranda warning. He later said he recalled maybe engaging in such activity with a juvenile to clarify something in the past. Wuori said he never had an interviewee read back the Miranda warning. He further noted that he never specifically asked Benitez-Estremera if he was willing to give up or waive his rights. Wuori testified Benitez-Estremera appeared to understand as they went line by line through the Miranda warning. He said he asked Benitez-Estremera if he was OK answering some questions after the Miranda warning was given.

Bergeson, an assistant state public defender, also asked Wuori about variations between the English and Spanish transcriptions. In one instance, the English transcription was about one person having some questions while the Spanish transcription was about more than one person having questions. Another variation involved the usage of “if I ask” versus “do you want to answer that?”

After Wuori’s testimony concluded, Judge Tamara Yon set a telephone conference for Monday, April 22. At that time, Benitez-Estremera’s attorneys will have decided whether to call any witnesses on behalf of the defense for a continued contested omnibus hearing in the case. They retained a psychologist to evaluate their client. That psychologist’s report was issued a few weeks ago, but she was unable to attend the court hearing Tuesday. Bergeson asked to have until Friday, April 19 to determine whether to call the psychologist or any other potential defense witnesses.

The defense had also received jail records related to his client. Gross planned to review them as well.

The complaint
Benitez-Estremera’s girlfriend allegedly said he told her that he had gotten into a fight with Opdahl when Opdahl was smoking near Benitez-Estremera’s car. He allegedly told her that he punched Opdahl because he felt a negative force from Opdahl. The woman wasn’t present during the assault. There was no indication that she ever saw Opdahl’s body.

The woman said Benitez-Estremera had “never been arrested for anything, never assaulted anyone or been violent towards her or anyone else.”

No one witnessed the three-minute attack, which was captured on surveillance video at the business. About 25 minutes after the assault began, a motionless Opdahl was found by a coworker.

The complaint indicated that Opdahl displayed no aggression to Benitez-Estremera. He walked around near Benitez-Estremera’s car and smoked his cigarette, ultimately standing in front of and facing Benitez-Estremera’s car. Benitez-Estremera then exited his car, knocked the cigarette away from Opdahl and threw Opdahl’s cup. He soon assaulted Opdahl, ultimately punching him about 17 times with most of the punches hitting him in the head. At one point, he allegedly grabbed Opdahl by the neck, pushed him toward the car and slammed Opdahl’s head into the windshield of Benitez-Estremera’s car, causing damage.

Opdahl tried to protect himself from the blows and, at different times, he could be seen exchanging words with Benitez-Estremera. He tried to run away several times. On Opdahl’s second attempt to escape the attack, Benitez-Estremera chased him while holding the sign. Benitez-Estremera reached him, hitting him in the head with the top of the sign. Opdahl then fell to the ground and was motionless. Benitez-Estremera continued hitting him multiple times with the sign.

For about 20 minutes, Benitez-Estremera remained in the area. Meanwhile, Opdahl’s motionless body remained nearby. A DigiKey employee found Opdahl’s body and called 911 at about 10:12 p.m. May 9.


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