ST. CLOUD – A Stearns County district judge on Friday sentenced a Duluth man who killed a St. Cloud professor in June to a little more than 32 years in prison.

After hearing statements from the victim's family, District Judge Kris Davick-Halfen ruled Jason R. Beckman, 45, must serve at least 21 years before he is eligible for parole.

Beckman fatally shot St. Cloud State University professor Ed Ward in the chest and abdomen June 20 after Beckman crashed a stolen vehicle in Ward's yard on the south side of St. Cloud.

"My home was violated, and my family was destroyed," said Amy Jones, Ward's daughter. "This event has made me lose faith in humanity."

Jones said Ward was a beloved professor, a wonderful father and a hero. It was Ward's generosity, she said, that prompted him to open the door for a stranger the day he was killed.

Beckman told investigators he got lost while driving, swerved to avoid a branch and lost control. He said he then knocked on the front door of the house and thought the man who answered — 68-year-old Ward — was a man "who had pointed [a] tan rifle at him earlier" at a grocery store in Waite Park, according to court records.

Beckman told police he wasn't sure if the man with the tan rifle was real, as he had been previously diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and manic depressive disorder, records show.

Beckman was charged with three felonies. As part of a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to one of the counts — second-degree murder with intent but not premeditation — on Oct. 1.

Prosecutor Jamie Reinschmidt said that agreeing on a sentence was difficult for the family because it's hard to put a value on someone's life.

"That's not justice. It's just a number that we agreed to," she said of the 386-month sentence.

Defense attorney Meghan Bork said Beckman took responsibility for his actions early on and therefore did not want the case to drag on, potentially for years.

When the judge asked Beckman if he had anything to add, he replied, "Just that I'm sorry."

Mark Ward, the victim's son, said his father's killing still feels surreal because he's not grieving a death due to a chronic illness or even an accident, such as getting hurt while doing something he loved like bicycling.

"The words 'My father was murdered' still don't quite register in my brain," he said.

St. Cloud police went to the shooting in the 2600 block of Island View Drive just after 6 a.m. on Father's Day. Shortly after 7 a.m., Beckman was arrested while walking about 1.5 miles away on the St. Cloud State campus. He was carrying a .45-caliber handgun and ammunition.

Investigators said Beckman abandoned a borrowed pickup truck in Waite Park early Sunday morning after it broke down. The truck's owner, a Duluth man, said Beckman borrowed it several days earlier to retrieve his tools from "down south," court records show. Beckman reportedly then stole a different vehicle parked outside a business and drove to Ward's neighborhood.

Although wounded, Ward was able to give authorities a description of his assailant before he was sedated. He was pronounced dead at 10:10 a.m.

Ward was a professor at St. Cloud State for more than three decades. Denese Ward, his former wife, told the judge the couple met in 1972 when she was 17. They eventually married and raised two children.

Although the couple divorced in 2003, they remained friends and helped care for each other after knee and hip surgeries, she said. In March, they moved in together again — to join forces so they wouldn't be a burden to their children. Ed Ward moved into the house along Island View Drive on June 10.

"We had 10 days together — just 10 days," Denese Ward said. "I thought we'd have our whole long lives ahead of us."

Jenny Berg • 612-673-7299

Twitter: @bergjenny