Verdict: Bakdash guilty of 2nd degree murder for hit-and-run

The jury concluded Timothy Bakdash acted with intent, not premeditation.
Ann Van Handel, center, mother of Ben Van Handel, tears up at a press conference after a jury convicted Timothy Bakdash of second-degree murder Tuesday at the Hennepin County Government Center. Bakdash hit Ben Van Handel on April 15, 2011 as he drove drunk down Fifth Street Southeast. Van Handel died six days later from the injuries sustained in the hit-and-run.
By
March 07, 2012

 

A 12-person jury Tuesday unanimously found Timothy Bakdash guilty  of second-degree murder for the hit-and-run last spring that killed a University of Minnesota student.

The jury found Bakdash acted with intent but not premeditation — he was not convicted of first-degree murder for the death of Ben Van Handel, 23, or attempted first-degree murder for injuring others in the incident.

Jurors also found Bakdash guilty of attempted murder in the second degree for injuries to Sarah Bagley and Katelynn Hanson, both University students at the time they were struck. He was also found guilty of six other charges.

After six days of witness testimony, the jury offered the verdict within 24 hours. Bakdash, 29, shook his head as the verdict was read.

The judge has not yet set a specific sentencing date but said it can be expected within four weeks.

On April 15, 2011, Bakdash drove the wrong way down one-way Fifth Street Southeast. He continued onto the sidewalk and hit four pedestrians, injuring two and killing Ben Van Handel, 23, a University student.

Van Handel’s father, Steve Van Handel, said he was content with the verdict.

“First degree would have been the sky,” he said. “It wasn’t just drunk driving ... it was intent.”

Leslie Falk, who tried to pull Ben Van Handel out of the path of Bakdash’s vehicle that night, said, “It made me feel good to know that he’s being put away for what he did, but it still isn’t going to bring back anything we lost.”

Ann Van Handel teared up, calling her son the friend everybody wants.

“He was awesome, he was smart –– cared about everyone,” she said.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the Bakdash trial was a legitimate first-degree murder case, though the jury didn’t see that.

But he said, “Justice was done in this case.”

The difference between first- and second-degree murder is premeditation. Both require intent, which the jury found Bakdash expressed in his actions.

“Premeditation requires for you to stop, think and plan what you do,” Freeman said.

The defense argued that after 15 to 20 mixed drinks and three to five shots at the Library Bar in Dinkytown, Bakdash was too drunk to form intent on the night of the incident.

Freeman said he was unsure what sentence Hennepin County will ask Judge Daniel Mabley to consider for Bakdash. He thinks, given the charges, the sentence could be about 25 years in prison.

The trial

Over the course of the trial, witnesses reconstructed the night of the hit-and-run and the days that followed. Prosecution called to the stand the surviving victims, the man who bought Bakdash’s car, Bakdash’s coworkers and others.

Defense called Bakdash to the stand Friday. He told the court he only meant to scare a man he thought had slapped him earlier in the night. In cross examination, Bakdash said he did kill Van Handel but that it wasn’t intentional.

Prosecution argued that physical evidence proves Bakdash intended to kill.

“There was no indication of an attempt to stop,” said Hennepin County attorney William Richardson, pointing to testimony that Bakdash continued down the sidewalk after clipping Aron James Epperson’s ankle and driving through a group of students.

Defense attorney Joe Tamburino said Bakdash didn’t intend to kill because he was drunk at the time of the incident and only intended to scare a man he believed he had fought with earlier that night.

Tamburino argued that Bakdash committed criminal vehicular homicide and operation — the lowest possible crime Bakdash could be charged with — because he was driving his car in a “neglectful manner.”

Steve Van Handel said the family will address Bakdash with statements at his sentencing.

Bakdash shook hands with his defense attorneys after the verdict while the prosecuting attorneys hugged Ben Van Handel’s parents.

The Van Handels hugged before exiting the building. They were happy to go home to Appleton, Wis., after 10 nights in a hotel, Ann Van Handel said.

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